★ ★ ★ ★
Legendary director Werner Herzog has taken his career in several different directions since his glory days in the 70's. Notably, he now works almost entirely in English, and with major Hollywood actors. In Bad Lieutenant, Herzog casted Nicolas Cage to play the aptly titled main character in a wry take on the neo-noire genre. As usual, Herzog uses this film to examine the dark side of humanity, though in a more accessible manner. In marked contrast to his earlier work, Bad Lieutenant is funny, even feeling light hearted at times. The cynicism of the film is always buoyed by Nick Cage's casually vulgar performance. He makes you laugh, even when you suspect you shouldn't.
After seeing Fear and Loathing, I assumed that there was no need to ever see another drug movie. Trainspotting was the only exception that I'd found until the Bad Lieutenant. Herzog captured the casual hypocrisy of the Drug War by exploiting every imaginable stereotype about police corruption. While Cage's character was off the wall, he was never quite over the top. Somehow, it wouldn't surprise me if there were a dozen officers playing by his rules in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Despite the nonchalant attitude the film takes towards drugs and violence, it still maintains the subtlety that you would expect from a director of Herzog's stature. As the film progresses, tiny fragments of information congeal to give the seemingly aimless plot line some direction. Though it would be a stretch to call it conventional, there is a story buried beneath the rubble. Even if there wasn't, the comedy would be enough to make it worthwhile. I never thought I would say that about a Herzog film.