4/30/10

You know I'm no good

Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant is even better the second time around. The director's New Orleans is a back door to jungle hallucinations. Tribal peoples conjure spirits as Nicolas Cage's gun-wielding explorer Terence McDonagh slips into a world of dreams. The opening scene has officer McDonagh jumping in feet first; by the end he is literally over his head and swimming with the fishes. McDonagh is as lost as the white explorers in Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, but also as happy. Herzog remains unfazed by William M. Finkelstein's melodramatic screenplay, instead framing the story on a human scale. It's so great to see a movie that shuts up and gets on with being a movie: mid shots, naturalistic lighting, single-take performances and real fucking acting. Cage's performance is balanced by subtle turns from Tom Bower, Jennifer Coolidge and Eva Mendes, and challenged by quirky showboating from Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif and J.D. Evermore. In fact, thinking about it, Bad Lieutenant has a huge cast and they're all good: Herzog has told the story by using people. The consequences are tragi-comic and the result, for all its gravity, is a delight.

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