Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Couple of Bad Lieutenants

Known for his on-set feuds with Klaus Kinski, some of which involved gun brandishing, Werner Herzog has plenty of experience capturing craziness on-screen. Herzog and insanity go hand-in-hand with one another, have for years. When news broke that there was to be a Bad Lieutenant remake, rumors swirled around the interwebs, speculating on whether or not a project like this could hope to hold any sort of quality. When Herzog came on as the director, those rumors slowed down considerably. What resulted from those rumors, over a year later, was a recommendable film with a great style and impressive performances from everyone on-screen. Just so everyone knows, I really enjoyed the remake/revisioning/whatever that Herzog produced but the original, in my opinion, is the heftier of the two.

Numerous reviewers have claimed that Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant and Herzog's share little in common other than their title and I find myself wondering if they saw the same two films as myself. Both films follow a cocaine-addicted police officer who owes a lot of money to his bookie and throws his authority around to get what he wants (sex, drugs, and money) while investigating a gruesome, violent crime. The original had a nun being raped. The newer one had a family murdered by a gunman. Aside from the location and the ending (depending on how you choose to read these endings), very little differs between the two narratives. Stylistically, that's definitely not true, but narratively, they're very similar.

There are difference, however, between the performances. Harvey Keitel's performance is gut-punchingly dark while Nicholas Cage's is over the top and borderline comedic. Don't get me wrong, Cage knocks it out of the park (especially considering Cage performances as of late) but for a film called Bad Lieutenant, his character isn't much worse than other crooked cops in other crooked cop movies. Keitel's character...he's the worst. In fact, let's play the "Baddest Lieutenant" game, shall we?

Each film contains a scene so similar to one another that they trump those "nothing but the title" reviews. In these scenes, the main characters use the power of their badges to force women into performing sexual acts. Each scene is pretty vile but the first film's is much worse. Cage has public sex with a willing woman while Keitel forces one girl to expose herself and the other girl to simulate oral sex while he has a fun time on their car door. One scene is relatively short while the other seems to go on for days. One scene features an overtly sexually agressive female while the other features two women on the brink of tears as the molestation takes place. Now, I ask you, who's the worst lieutenant?

And while it shouldn't be a competition between these two films and each film should be judged by its own merit, I'm just trying to make the point that Herzog's film, while entertaining and captivating, didn't carry the weight of Ferrera's film. The similarities are obvious and abundant but the original holds more weight. Herzog claims not to have seen the original and to have no idea who Abel Ferrera is. Well, first of all, I'm calling bullshit on that. But even if he really had never seen the first Bad Lieutenant, his screenwriter, producers, actors, and key grips had. If Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, had been released as just Port of Call New Orleans, the critic world would have exploded from all of the simultaneously written "what a rip-off!" reviews.


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whitney said...

I think walkerkellner has a really good point.

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