Monday, May 16, 2011

Bad Lieutenants

Other than sharing the same name and general premise of being about a crooked police officer, the two movies made by Abel Ferrera and Werner Herzog couldn't be more different. Abel Ferrara's is full of dread and nihilism, Herzog's is exuberant and joyfully absurd. While Ferrara themes are existentialist and the tone nihilistic, with the main character played by Harvey Keitel eventually being gunned down for his sins (after begging for forgiveness from a vision of Jesus Christ himself) in the end, Nicolas Cage's character in Herzog's version gets away with everything in a comical scene in the end. All at once, he realizes that his gamble on a sports game paid off, gotten away with murder and corrupt acts, and the gangsters that were trying to kill him are dead.

Looking at these movies side by side, we can see that both have distinct visions of what life is like and whether redemption is truly possible. Ferrera is overwhelmed by angst and sees each vile act a person commits eventually coming around back to them, whether through karma or through the weight of guilt. Herzog sees life being all a game in the end. What does it matter if you do vile things all your life, as long as you are okay with it and get away with it?

One mesmerizing scene captures the tone and point of view of Herzog's version perfectly. After a gang shootout, Nicolas Cage's character instructs his gang to shoot them again after they are dead, because "his soul is still dancing". We then see a breakdancer (surely only visible to Nicolas Cage's crazy character) dancing around the room. Life or death, what's the difference anyways?

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