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AFI FEST 2009: Bad Lieutenant, Good Movie


Poster for Herzog's version of Bad Lieutenant

Though certainly not easy viewing, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans remains one of the highlights of this year’s festival. The film comes from famed German director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn) and is a somewhat loose remake of Abel Ferrara’s film. Bad Lieutenant deals with detective lieutenant Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a policeman badly injured in the aftermath of Katrina while saving a drowning prison inmate. While it appears that Terence was no saint before Katrina, now injured and addicted to pain killers, he increasingly blurs the boundary between policeman and criminal. His co-dependent relationship with drug-dealing prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) furthers his loss of control. The film also features Jennifer Coolidge, Val Kilmer and rapper Xzibit.

As you may have guessed from the description, this film is certainly not for everyone. The title is no exaggeration. Terence is a (very) bad lieutenant; he steals drugs from the evidence room to use or sell, racks up dangerously high debts gambling, and, in probably the most uncomfortable moment in the movie, has sex with a woman in a parking lot in front of her boyfriend. To enjoy this film, you really need to be the type of person who doesn’t mind despising a main character or a movie that occasionally makes you cringe. However, Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is not your average film at the multiplex and Terence’s character will challenge you as a viewer. Terence's spiral downward is punctuated by moments in which he breaks down realizing how far off course he has gone, adding a breath of humanity to an often inhumane character. His uncharacteristic decision to save the prison inmate remains enigmatic through much of the film. However, it is this uncharacteristic action that ultimately provides the movie with an ending that offers a chance at redemption to a person fighting against so many personal demons. While this film is not for everyone, its ability to stay with you long after you've left the theater demonstrates that it is a movie that produces complex, often conflicting emotions. 

Bad Lieutenant played at AFI Fest 2009 November 4 with Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge and director Werner Herzog in attendance. Film opens in theaters November 20


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