Tagging Nicholas Cage to play a gambling, call girl dating, crack addicted cop investigating an incredibly brutal murder? That is a win, especially if you let Cage run with it.
Why is Bad Lieutenant so unbearable then? It carries the plot of countless modern cop films almost to the point of parody. Terence’s (Cage) addictions are dominating, and when stoned out of his mind, he overplays everything with precision.
In this setting, it just is not funny. For instance, to help with a gambling debt, Terence agrees to help his bookie’s daughter with a parking ticket. Brazen as he is, Terence barges onto the scene of a severe accident where a driver ran over an alligator to ask the highway patrols Captain to take care of the ticket. It goes terribly wrong, and then director Werner Herzog, apparently tripping on something himself, goes into a whacked out handheld point of view shot from another gators perspective on the side of the road.
Maybe this is one of those movies where you need to be in some exclusive club to “get,” or maybe the entire thing is a dreadfully boring, unfunny exercise in how to try to be different. Credit has to be given to Herzog for going against all norms, even if the end product itself is a baffling, frustrating, and unfunny mess. A minute long POV shot from an iguana and a bearded dragon? What is with the reptiles?
Maybe Bad Lieutenant, supposedly not a sequel/remake of the 1992 film with the same name, is trying too hard. You have an odd script, and you land Nicholas Cage for the lead role. You try to squeeze every oddball scenario to its limits, well the past the point of being entertaining. Watching Cage spew expletives and deprive an old lady of oxygen is not just desperate, it is something no adjective has been invented for.
Coming out of the film, memories are those failed moments that either confused or annoyed. Taken as a dark comedy, character comedy, light comedy, or bad drug trip, it never comes together. You are left searching for the reason behind its creation, not a reason to like it.
For the first hour, Bad Lieutenant seems to be a mixture of digital photography and film. Faces can appear waxy, skin tones pinkish, and detail lacking. A few scenes such as the interrogation around 16:30, show decent facial definition, and a defined grain structure. A few minutes later during a drug bust, the murky blacks are combined with limited environmental detail.
Unfortunately, part of that paragraph is incorrect. Bad Lieutenant was shot entirely on film. This AVC encode simply fails to present it as such for about half of the movie. Somewhere in the second hour, this one starts coming into its own. Depth becomes stronger, delivering stable and generally deep blacks. Facial detail can be superb, even in low light. The light grain structure is entirely unobtrusive, and the previously scorching contrast is under control.
While a bit dull and faded (intentional for the mood) a great shot of New Orleans at 1:10:56 demonstrates phenomenal depth deep into the frame. Pulling into Terence’s fathers home for the first time (48:41) reveals fantastic and defined foliage. Colors are rich in their depth, although intentionally limited at times. The deep, heavy blues worn by the officers during the award ceremony are excellent. Some black crush and a minimal level of high contrast edge ringing are minor.
Heavily dialogue driven, Bad Lieutenant only contains one action sequence, a brief shoot-out inside a drug kingpins home. Thankfully, it delivers. Shotgun blasts erupt on the low end with wonderfully satisfactory bass. The highs offer a fantastic level of clarity, and the volume level is in perfect balance with the rest of the film’s generally quiet dialogue.
This TrueHD effort tracks numerous vehicles as they pass through the frame, and effectively. Ambiance is typically dead, save for a few scenes in a bar where Terence meets his bookie. There you will hear music and ambient chatter in the surrounds, creating a marginally immersive environment.
A small set of bonus features includes a fine half hour making of, one filled with plenty of raw footage from the set. A still gallery contains shots taken by Lena Herzog. Trailers remain.