Review: Bad Lieutenant

CHLOE MASHITER: ‘Despite the praise this film has garnered left, right and centre, it just left me with the distinct feeling that a Bad Lieutenant does not a good movie make.’

Chloe Mashiter Face Off MacDonald's Nicholas Cage Terence MacDonald Warner Brown

Directed by Werner Herzog. 

I guess I have to admire Bad Lieutenant for its guts. It takes serious balls to parcel together every damaged character and perilous plotline ever imagined, then tie them all up with an ending that’s so damn saccharine it should come with a dental health warning. But we’ll come to the downright shameful ending later.

Nicholas Cage plays Terence MacDonald in this tale of good cop gone bad, wading through a melee of prostitutes, addicts, criminals, witnesses, colleagues, gamblers and miscellaneous pointless animals for an exhausting two hours. It’s not so much an individual, coherent film, as a copy of ‘Now That’s What I Call Gritty Crime Drama’. 

As the standout feature of a pretty shambolic film, those two big red stars belong entirely to Cage. Having seen Face Off more times than is socially acceptable, I already knew that barely-contained madness is his signature style and here he brilliantly conveys MacDonald’s steady loss of control, practically making veins pop at will. This film is at its best when the screen is saturated with Cage’s glorious manic energy – a scene where he threatens an OAP, cutting off her oxygen supply whilst screaming that she’s a c*** (I do have some modesty) is wonderful. The other actors aren’t bad, but in this cinematic all-you-can-eat-buffet their characters either have no time to develop or must do so in jarring leaps and bounds.

My next gripe is more than a little geeky, so I’ll make it quick: the cinematography made me want to self-harm. What few good shots there were got lost beneath awkward documentary style segments and some pathetically strange hallucination shots, often leaving me subconsciously craning my neck to try and get a better view of the actors.

Also, the film indulges in being gritty for grit’s sake – I really cannot fathom what other reason there is to show Cage fucking a young girl in a parking lot, listing all her potential mental problems, whilst holding her boyfriend at gunpoint and demanding he watch. Even Cage’s powerhouse performance can’t entirely mask the fact that MacDonald often seems to be House (handicap, vicodin, professional success and unstable personal relationships all present) but without the wit and life-saving tendencies, resulting in something a few shades too dark.

Now to the ending: after the self-restraint exercised in my last review, I’m allowing myself some spoiler privileges, so prepare for a sugar rush. This is how this otherwise pessimistic flick finishes: MacDonald’s girlfriend attends rehab and is pregnant with his baby; his father and step-mother both kick their addictions; he pays off his gambling debts and makes a tidy profit on the side; he ensures the arrest of a murderous drug lord; all the criminals who pose a threat to him kill each other in a shootout; he gets promoted and even though he’s still dealing with drug addiction, a criminal who he saved in the first scene expresses his gratitude and pledges to help MacDonald. It’s cuddlier than a Care Bears episode.

Despite the praise this film has garnered left, right and centre, it just left me with the distinct feeling that a Bad Lieutenant does not a good movie make.