Bad Lieutenant: Ferrara's Keitel vs. Herzog's Cage

Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutentant is one of my favorite films of all time. It is mythic, epic, all Keitel wrestling his demons, his sins. That is what the film gives us: a reckoning. Keitel knows he's a sinner and in decline. The film is Catholic, a tale of sin and redemption. To wit >>

I love Herzog and was, to say the least, surprised that he was the one to direct a remake — if we can call it that — and with Nicolas Cage. Odd. And what we get is a very different take on extreme behavior, on drugs and consumption. Rather than sin, we get excess and madness. This is Herzog's world where everything goes to the limit and beyond.

Herzog's film is a mess. And this, alas, is what makes it enjoyable — when it is enjoyable. The film careens, much like its titular bad lieutenant. And, amidst this wired, stoned meander there are some truly surprising and hilarious moments. When he holds a gun to two old ladies in a nursing home — his gun is enormous, an on running gag — and tells them that he should fucking kill them because they are everything that's wrong with America, he is not the insane one. In fact, it's one of his most lucid moments. And hence a truly complex scene.

And the film, admirably, never falls into a pat answer for what drives this character. He does not have a heart of gold. But he is not just a selfish asshole. He's mad, much like the film.

The fact is, Ferrara's film is a masterpiece — a nearly perfect film, if there is such a thing. And Herzog's is a mess. But, in this mess, there is something strange and beautiful.


pierre daud said...

completely agree withe the qualities of abel Ferrar version.

Werner Herzog will may be stay reminded by audiences by his works with Klaus Kinski.

I was wondering how Herzog managed to work on such a crazy material that the script of bad lieutnant. In some way, you must have surived to your own craziness to bring such a subject. TRhe personnal experience of the producer is important. And, hopefully Abel Ferrar is clearly crazy... Thanks to that we may enjoy one or two incredible movies!

So I was sceptical about this remake, and after reading your post I won't see it.

TJ said...

Prof Coffeen! Glad I found this blog...I miss your classes. Seriously.

Re: Bad Lieutenant. I liked both versions. Ferrar's certainly is more dark and visceral but Herzog's also has it's moments. The iguana cams and when he pulls the gun on the old ladies had me laughing my ass off.

A film I recently saw and instantly thought of you/your class was "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" an adaptation of the Patrick Süskind novel. Love to hear your take on that one.

Hope all's well,