In defense of the Bad Lieutenant trailer.

29 May, 2009

Everyone is making fun of the new promotional trailer for Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. I understand why. The original is a masterpiece and features Harvey Keitel’s finest performance by a mile. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage is…well, he’s no Harvey Keitel, that’s for sure.

And yet I can’t help but feel optimistic about this film. Firstly, the trailer makes it clear that it has no bearing on the original whatsoever, besides the fact that it features a self-destructive cop in the title role. Herzog has stated that he is not remaking Ferrara’s film, and at this point, I believe him. After all, he hasn’t even seen it. According to Mark Kermode, Herzog told him that while the original is about the burden of guilt, his picture will be about the bliss of evil. How can you not be fascinated by that premise?

As for Nic Cage, I can understand the readiness to mock his performance considering the kind of dreck he puts out on a regular basis. We’ve seen him carry a remake before (The Wicker Man), and the result is one of the funniest bad movies of all-time. But here, Cage is playing an addict, which is one of the few things he does well. He won a well-deserved Oscar for playing a drunk in Leaving Las Vegas and played a pill-popping parademic in Bringing Out the Dead which is Scorsese’s most underrated film. This alone gives me the strength to keep an open-mind for his performance in this film.

Finally, it’s only a trailer. Just because the trailer is bad, doesn’t mean the film will follow suit. Everyone I know dismissed In Bruges based on the trailer and were forced to eat their words when they discovered how intelligent and witty it really is. On the other side of the coin, how many films have you seen in which all the best bits were in the trailer? It means nothing. Sure, the film could be rubbish, but it’s just as likely that it will be a masterpiece.

Ultimately, Werner Herzog is one of the greatest filmmakers working today. He is one of the greatest filmmakers who has ever lived. That doesn’t guarantee that Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans will be a great film, but it’s reason enough to give the film a chance. If nothing else, the film will be so insane that it will be as thoroughly enjoyable as Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man. If Cage is going to continue making bad films, I’d take this kind of thing over Next or Knowing any day.

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