The movie begins with a shot of a snake slithering through Hurrican Katrina water as the credits pile up with familiar batshit crazy types: Werner Herzog, Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer. I am not at all afraid of snakes and like all phobias, if you don't have it you think it's strange that other people do. What's scary about snakes? They're beautiful and the way they move is intoxicating.
The snake is moving through a flooding prison and a prisoner named Chavez, seeing the snake, says "oh shit". It's the first line of dialogue in the movie. The first and last series has made me hyper aware of how movies begin and "oh shit" doesn't give me much hope for anything beautifully scripted. But it's Herzog so at least it'll be watchable.
I didn't see the original Bad Lieutenant (1992). The only thing I remember hearing about that movie when it came out was that it was 'sick' and that Harvey Keitel went full frontal. There was an uproar because a) you're not supposed to see penis in movies and b) if you do it's supposed to be porn star size. At least that's the rule according to the internet which always collectively freaks out when confronted with anything approximating reality.
I have no phobia about snakes or trouser snakes but I sure as hell don't want to see Nicolas Cage's!!! I bring this up because in this sequence he talks about his $55 underwear and then he takes off his jacket off. For a second I was very afraid. In the end he just jumped into the 'oh shit'ty water with his clothes on to rescue Chavez.
Six months later Cage is investigating a crime and snorting...vicodin? That rescue apparently messed up his back forever. At least that's what I think he's snorting. I didn't even know it was possible to snort prescription medication but I recently watched the first season of Nurse Jackie (so good) and you learn a lot about how creative people get with their addictions, prescribed and otherwise.
Cage's bad lieutenant is investigating an execution style massacre of an entire family in New Orleans. It's drug related as is virtually everything in the movie. In a little dead boy's room he reads a sad poem about a fish, which sits in a glass. I'm currently undecided about the movie but the cinematography (by Peter Zeitlinger) is pretty great.
During a precinct meeting about this bloody crime there's a fun pan left through assembled cops that ends on Nicolas Cage, his shoulders are asymmetrical with pain and his face wears an odd hung expression. He has the most unlikely of movie star faces. If a woman were as ugly as Nicolas Cage she would only get to be a character actress. She would never in a million years get any leading roles and certainly wouldn't earn millions while phoning it in in numerous action pictures.
Not that he's phoning it in in this movie.
I suppose you could say that Nicolas Cage is a good actor but i think you'd have to define good acting first. At any rate he's unarguably an inventive actor. But invention and "good" are not always simpatico. You should also be consistent and you should maybe work towards cohesive characterizations and end goals. In short, there should be a method to your madness... especially when there's actual madness. Otherwise it'll all tip over into self-parody or self-aggrandizement or self-love or all three. I sometimes think that Nicolas Cage is, as an actor, as compulsive a masturbator as his Adaptation altar-ego. Take his Big Daddy role in Kick-Ass for another example. Yes, it's funny that he's mocking Adam West's Batman cadences but to what end?
The bad lieutenant is sometimes working on his murder case but just as often he's preying on club goers outside of a bar named Gator's Retreat to score more dope. Somewhere in the world right at this very moment, a grad student has just proposed a dissertation on animal imagery in Bad Lieutenant ... or possibly the films of Werner Herzog. Herzog's got a complete menagerie inside that filmography: monkeys, iguanas, grizzlies... you name it.
Anyway the lieutenant just forced a guy some poor sap to give up his drugs and then made the guy watch as he banged his girlfriend. Pleasant. While doing this naughty deed, Cage emits these sounds that are meant to function as sexual grunting but sound closer to guffawed barking. He's such a weirdo (character and actor). There are many shots of animals in this movie, but there's many more of Nicolas Cage behaving like a beast. Now I am beginning to remember vague implied descriptions of perversity from the first film and also why I never saw it. I understand that the two Bad Lieutenants are not especially related as films, outside of their shared perversity?
Because of my policy about not showing you photos of Nicolas Cage -- a policy I just invented during this post -- I've decided to only share animal photos during this train of review-thought thing. So far we've seen gator signs, snakes, teddy bears, zebra print fabric... and now an actual alligator, or two of them. One, twitching and dying, appears to have caused a car accident and is belly up on the ground. The other functions like an exclamation point, question mark or punchline to the scene. He's been watching his buddy dying. At first I thought he seem sad but later I decided malevolent. Maybe he chased his friend into the traffic... and was using him as bait for human meat? It must be the framing of his massive jaw.
Whatever I take is prescription. Except for the heroin.Oh, yes, I said Fairuza Balk. Plus Kilmer and Michael Shannon? They're all swirling around Cage in this film. I think Herzog must miss Klaus Kinski like crazy. Perhaps he's experimenting like Dr. Frankenstein, assembling the parts or essence of as many unstable, livewire or "off" screen personas as he can find by shoving them all into the same movie and squeezing.
The further along the movie goes -- I'm done with it now. T'was too hard to write and watch and bus at the same time -- the more clearly we see the lieutenant's insanity. The animal motif keeps building, too. After the snake, fish, and gators we get an adorable white dog that keeps trading owner hands, prompting Cage to utter what might be my favorite of his line readings in the movie.
I got a friend. She just loves animals. All of 'em. Dogs, too.As if dogs were the least lovable of animals. Heh.
The dog doesn't really own his scene. He's too subservient. The reptiles are another story altogether. Not to be outdone by the gators, iguanas show up rather memorably and twice over. Plus more fish and stray sightings like a bull fight on the television. The plot is a pileup as Cage, almost continually high, fucks up his investigation (he loses the only witness) and gets deeper and deeper into drugs and debts and danger as he juggles police duties, drug fixes, criminal activities, and relationship infighting with his family and prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes, pretty solid throughout).
For all of that, I think the movie is a comedy. The story turns give the impression that the whole thing is an unreliable farce or satire or... possibly political satire? This does take place after Hurricane Katrina and the white guy fuck-up keeps being rewarded for his insanity. Maybe that's a stretch. I'm tired. I'm on a bus! In addition to the narrative being jokey or at least absurdist, the hallucinatory bits, like a double iguana sighting, are so vividly performed and directed. The famous iguana sequence is as good as I'd heard but not for the reason I was expecting. I had thought that the scene would be a hallucination from the bad lieutenant's perspective as iguanas distract him from the investigation. Instead Herzog begins and ends the scenes with the iguanas rather than the cops and its shot from their side of the room. It's the cops not the iguanas that are the intrusion.
It's a brilliant choice, which forces the surreal joke that maybe the animals are imagining the movie rather than being drug fueled hallucinations themselves. What do iguana dream of anyway? Like the alligator watching the car accident, one has to wonder what these reptiles are up to. Whatever their master plan, they're ready for their close-up. Mr. Herzog will give it to them.
The movie will make room for a few more animal references and sightings. The most vivid is the story of man becoming an animal. After smoking crack Cage tells a local drug dealer about a football player who sprouted antlers... "like a gazelle! like an elk!" peppering this tall tale with Jack Nicholson laughter. But the iguanas have already claimed the movie for their own and will steal this very scene from both the human gazelle and Cage himself.
The investigation plot -- the least interesting but constant part of the movie -- wraps up and the movie loses me. Why did Herzog and screenwriter William M Finkelstein end this drug fueled comedy with a serious rehab coda? Still, all is not well in New Orleans even after justice has been served. The bad lieutenant is still bad. All that has changed is that he is now aware of his depravity. The movie ends by reuniting the lieutenant with the prisoner he rescued from the hurricane.
Bad Lieutenant: Do fish dream?...he asks ex con Chavez in a wonderful non-sequitor after a rehab discussion.
I hoped that the movie would end right there in an imagined animal kingdom. Instead there's one more line. We jump to a shot of Terrence and Chavez visiting an aquarium, the water that first threatened them two hours back is now safely behind glass. Unfortunately Herzog and screenwriter William M Finkelstein can't resist one last full circle joke about Cage's underpants as the movie's last line. Did they have to?
Bad Lieutenant: You know Chavez, I still hate that I ruined my underwear for you.*
*all species names herein are potentially innacurate. I wasn't going for research or realism.