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Nicolas Cage
Eva Mendes
Val Kilmer
Fairuza Balk.
Werner Herzog.
Running Time
121 minutes

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Man With A Movie Camera
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Salt Of The Earth, The
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Bad Lieutenant
Have Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage made the craziest film ever?

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Rogue cop Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) investigates a vicious, apparently gang-related murder, while simultaneously satisfying his own apparently insatiable appetite for drugs and reckless gambling, trying to guard a teenage witness of the massacre and looking after his father’s dog.

Bad Lieutenant
Werner Herzog has tended to operate more effectively and consistently as a documentarian than as a director of fiction; even his classics, Aguirre: Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo, embedded large slugs of director-generated reality in their nominally fictional tales. That he’d attempt anything as contrived and potentially limiting as the cop thriller seems counterintuitive. Small wonder, then, that in fact he hasn’t attempted anything as contrived and potentially limiting as a cop thriller (and it’s certainly no remake — you may as well compare Monsters, Inc. to Abel Ferrara’s tortured original; you’ll probably find more similarities). Bad Lieutenant is a character piece, a coruscating account of one man’s trip to hell and the hoots of mordant laughter that can be had along the way, surrounded by a few of the trappings of the erstwhile genre. So sure, there’s a gang murder and some kind of investigation; there are drug busts and gunfights, scenes in interrogation rooms and bodies are gaffer-taped and slung into the bayou. But all these tropes are incidentals — most matters of plot are, in the end, stitched up in a single scene that lasts less than a minute. Which is why the success of this whole shebang relies on its central character’s performance. And here Nicolas Cage delivers in spades. And then delivers some more.

Cage has always been a vexing, inconsistent screen presence. When the material and director are right (Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, Con Air), he is one of the most compelling, unique voices in American cinema, comparable really to no-one else). But when the material is wrong (8mm, National Treasure) something curdles, and what was once bracingly off beam becomes irritatingly contrived.

But in Herzog he has found the perfect collaborator. Though he denies it, Cage may well be the heir to Klaus Kinski as Herzog’s muse. While even Cage doesn’t quite approach Kinski’s air of sainted lunacy, there is the sense that, unlike other actors with whom Herzog has worked, the director has no need to nudge, threaten or cajole his lead into embracing his skewed aesthetic. Cage has been living on planet Herzog all the while: they seem to glance at each other, grin with delight and reach fearlessly for the crazy. In what other cop thriller would you see the corpse of an alligator in the middle of a traffic accident, hind leg still twitching — but see it through the milky eye of a second alligator, unobserved by the human participants?

Is it the first alligator’s significant other? Mother? Best bud? Whatever, it is distinctly unimpressed with this brief glimpse of human affairs and slinks back into the foetid morass. (The fact that one of the traffic cops is played by Fairuza Balk just adds to the air of surreality.) In other news, a gunshot victim’s soul breakdances his way into the hereafter. And there are more iguanas present than is conventional for the genre.

The secret to Cage’s performance is that even if he is not a good man, he is at heart a likable, somewhat mesmerising one, and screenwriter William Finkelstein is smart enough to give McDonagh’s drug habit some kind of excuse — an agonising injury sustained in an uncharacteristic moment of generosity to a drowning criminal.

The move to New Orleans is a masterstroke, the perfect setting for McDonagh’s downfall. The New Orleans Herzog channels seems to be in constant warfare with the swamp, the outcome of this battle undecided. It feels wet, humid — greenery seeping out of the cracks in its tasteful façade. Literal rot as well as figurative decay is everywhere.

And just when you think this insane gumbo can surprise you no further, Bad Lieutenant throws another perfectly judged curve ball: a redemptive moment that seems to come from nowhere, and which really shouldn’t work. But it does, and it leaves you smiling at Herzog’s audacity.

An exhilarating riff on the cop-thriller drama by a director at the top of his game — Herzog is also at his most accessible here — powered by an incendiary performance from Nicolas Cage. A very bad lieutenant, then. And a bloody good film.

Reviewed by Adam Smith

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Bad Lieutenant
Empire Star Rating

Five stars? hilarious ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 02:32, 10 May 2012 | Report This Post

Mad Lieutenant

This film is just fucking nuts and had me laughing out loud on more than one occassion - when he's trying to extract information from the old granny and her carer I mean it was pure insanity and completely hilarious The look on Nicolas Cage's face ... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 17:26, 05 March 2012 | Report This Post

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans Review

Befitting its unorthodox origins, this Bad Lieutenant benefits from Werner Herzog's typically fearless direction and a delightfully unhinged Nicolas Cage in the title role. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 14:01, 14 February 2012 | Report This Post

a bloody good film it is!

Nic Cage has an amazing talent as an actor, he has those occasional films like this one which he does every once in a while ranging from Leaving Las Vegas, Red Rock West and Adaptation if only he could do more films like this, p.s. Kick Ass was pretty awesome too! ... More

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Posted by jordan thomas at 16:46, 08 January 2012 | Report This Post

"thats attempted bribory"

1st of all try and remember when Val Kilmer was actually in a good movie that wasn't a straight-to-DVD-movie...enough said this movie is one of the best films of the year it was made Herzog shines and Cage is at one of the peaks of his career in this movie...... ... More

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Posted by Dirk Diggler 619 at 20:39, 19 November 2011 | Report This Post


Finally got round to seeing this on the weekend and was really looking forward to it. Have to say though - extremely disappointed. Despite only being just over 2 hours it seemed to go on forever, with about 5 different endings after which they decided to finally end it mid-scene! Sure, maybe I didn't 'get it' and it was actually hilarious but to be honest there seems to be a fine line between a 'cult/arthouse' film and one that's just plain shit. I know it was sup... More

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Posted by brucejackiejet at 09:45, 16 May 2011 | Report This Post

tp://]Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleansinally we can ditch the premise that Nicolas Cage can`t act. In Herzog`s 2 hour trip he finally proves otherwise and shows that he really can act. He gives a carreer-best performance. His creating of the excentric character Terence McDonagh fits perfectly into the messed-up world that Herzog brings to the screen. Those two things combined turn this into a very fine film with some wonderfull dark humour. /b] ... More

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Posted by TheGodfather at 20:40, 27 March 2011 | Report This Post

Fun, Rewarding and Reliably Good.

This was hands down one of my films of the year. Along with all the extremeness it doesn't forget to have some fun. Cage is a joy to watch and the rest of the cast back him up well in my opinion. They really don't make many of 'em like this any more. ... More

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Posted by Rich Empire at 14:31, 22 December 2010 | Report This Post

Ridiculously Overrated

I don't understand why there's so much hype surrounding the picture. It's seems like little more than a vehicle to get Cage back into gritty dramas. The problem isn't the acting either, as most of the cast do an amiable job. It's the fault of the nonexistent plot, the terrible set pieces, and the abominable script that screams 'cheese' from the word go. It's not a total write off, but this is nowhere near as good as the hype would have you believe ... More

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Posted by blaud at 13:09, 05 December 2010 | Report This Post

Good. ... More

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Posted by reminn at 11:34, 03 November 2010 | Report This Post

Shoot again! His soul is still dancing!

Cage is back, but for how long? Really good black-comedy thriller... ... More

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Posted by The Great Danton at 11:24, 31 October 2010 | Report This Post


UTENANT:Port Of Call New Orleans Don't go into this expecting anything that resembles Ferrara's 1992 Bad Lieutenant,the two have nothing in common other than the premise of a drug-addicted corrupt cop. Port of Call wasn't intended to be a remake, adding Bad Lieutenant to the title was a commercial decision, Herzog even say's he's never watch the movie.What we have here is Nicolas Cage at his best when sailing close to the edge with substance abuse, ... More

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Posted by evil bill at 15:45, 11 September 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Proof that Herzog has no limits.

With the studio apparently insisting on the title, this bears little resemblance to the 1992 film called Bad Lieutenant, except that it's about a somewhat unhinged cop with a bit of a drug problem. This is more of a dark comedy, a really engaging off-the-wall exercise which feels so fresh it actually seems like it's the work of talented young new director, not from a guy in his 70s.  Centering around a simply extroadinary performance from Nicolas Cage, who is just hypnotic to wat... More

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Posted by Dr Lenera at 19:38, 07 July 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

Nic Cage is back! Herzog, I salute you. Shame the film failed at the Box Office. But this film is in no way a failure - it is almost classic, but not quite. The iguanas are fantastic and overall utenant: Port of Call New Orleansid gold. I would watch this over and over... "Till the break of dawn, baby!" ] ... More

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Posted by robwillphill at 19:39, 02 June 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant is the most demetedly great film I have seen in some time. Nicolas Cage somehow imbues his role with pathos and despite being a coke snorting, crack smoking, granny abusing loon he somehow remains sympathetic.   Werner Herzog loves the whole men battling nature angle, but here the battle is almost an internal one for Cage's cop Terrnece McDonagh, setting hium apart from the likes of Firtzcarraldo in the Herzog cannon. Quite explicitly expressed onscreen as his mind drift... More

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Posted by Axel Foley at 20:07, 30 May 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

Director: Werner Herzog Screenwriter: William Finkelstein Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Fairuza Balk, Brad Dourif Synopsis In post-Katrina New Orleans, Terence McDonough (Cage) who is a drug/gambling-addled detective investigates the killing of five Senegalese immigrants. Review As someone who watches cult films, I recently got to see Abel Ferrara’s classic cop drama Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey “Mr White” Keitel in a career-best performance. Despit... More

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Posted by R W at 14:03, 30 May 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

I think you're missing the point. The majority of us here may like/love this movie for different reasons,but we a mainstream minority. Most moviegoers are avoiding this,so nobody's blowing a commercial trumpet-thankfully. it's being bumped down in shows in my Cineworld to facilitate the SITC2 shite. ... More

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Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 21:30, 29 May 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

I watched the original with Harvey Keitel last night on Film Four but my cinema isnt screening this version yet, I don't know why? If I were a casual cinema goer I would pay to see it. Im not a casual cinema goer though Im an avid Cinema goer I go every week, I love films and I hate it when my cinema doesnt screen films unless they are guaranteed to make money. Sometimes they do show them later but usually in the screen with the broken speaker Im very finicky about these things nothing wor... More

Posted by Bighousewill at 16:00, 29 May 2010 | Report This Post


A completely different beast to the extremely grim Abel Ferrara original which in turn works for and against it. Nicolas Cage gives a hugely enjoyable performance whilst Herzog stamps his trademark madness all over the canvas (specifically with the crocodiles, Iguanas and a certain dance segment) - resulting in a funny and entertaining couple of hours. The lack of depth to the proceedings however mean that unlike Ferrara's effort, Herzog's remake is very much in the realm of throwaway, c... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 11:22, 29 May 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Bad Lieutenant

This one can be filed alongside Where The Wild Things Are and Synechdoche New York for me, in that I can't really see what all the massive fuss is about t was just ...... good and that's about the most praise I can give it. Nicely filmed, Nic Cage on occasional top form, and a couple of stand out extremely surreal/quirky scenes, but other than that it was largely quite dull. I'd give it a 3/5, although I have no intention of watching it again in the near future. ... More

Posted by captainrentboy at 20:09, 27 May 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Cop thriller?

I think it is a refreshing break from the 3D crud we are being enveloped in. This is a film with so many different levels,that you can take on any level you want. Cage is a delight to watch when he has material like this. ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 08:41, 27 May 2010 | Report This Post


I think some people are probably put off by the film's constant yo-yoing between comedy and serious thriller. For me, I think that's what makes the film so unique. It finds that middle ground between both genres in order to create something funny and dark in equal amounts. Herzog is the king of cinematic insanity and knows that madness is both comical and tragic. Bad Lieutenant is certainly not a one dimensional film and demands repeat viewings I think. Favourite scene? I guess it'll... More

Posted by Edward Nygma at 01:56, 27 May 2010 | Report This Post


Are you saying if you had been at a rave in the 90s,out of your face and seen an iguana(or any suchlike lizard) that you would have "gotten that scene"? That is the brillance of this film-did i get it?Should i have gotten it?Wtf? Cage's performance is brilliant in a very understated sort of way,like he used to be.But if he wasn't there,this movie wouldn't work. Watch it again,it's that good,and don't worry about "getting it",cause within each of our experiences/interpretations,you will! ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 00:25, 27 May 2010 | Report This Post


here's drugs,englebert humperdink and 2 iguanas during a steakout. le drugs thing with igunanas and alligators made no sense to me? I am not shy, to admit I did a LOT of drugs in the 1990s (I was a hardcore raver and party person) and I never saw any lizards... ... More

Posted by hampstead bandit at 20:36, 26 May 2010 | Report This Post


Back to the stars debate-this will be a 5 star film that you love,or a 2 or 3 star film that you don't get,or simply don't like. Cage is probably the best actor at a self-loathing loving implosion(Bringing Out The Dead,leaving Las Vegas etc). He is soooooo much better when he leaves the blockbusters alone. Favourite scene? Where there's drugs,englebert humperdink and 2 iguanas during a steakout. How could you not like that? ... More

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 22:59, 25 May 2010 | Report This Post

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