In 1972, he took us down river into the heart of darkness in Aguirre The Wrath of God; in 1982’s Fitzcaraldo, he hauled a massive steamboat over a mountain and, in 2006’s Rescue Dawn, he turned Christian Bale into an insect-eating P.O.W.
Now, celebrated German arthouse director Werner Herzog resurrects actor Nicolas Cage’s long lost edge in his berserkly entertaining re-imagining of Abel Ferrara’s notorious 1992 portrait of police corruption and drug fuelled madness, Bad Lieutenant.
Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans — opening Friday — sees Hollywood heavy hitter Cage starring as a neurotic cop whose various addictions are slowly getting the better of him.
As he gets deeper entwined in a confounding murder investigation, he rides off the rails, veering into chemically tweaked eccentricity with near operatic aplomb.
“Nicolas’s performance is often like jazz,” says the 67-year-old Herzog.
“But he’s still embedded in a very clearly defined part. When he goes wild, it’s within clear structures of a situation, it’s still controlled.”
If any filmmaker alive understands how to essay bad behaviour on screen, it’s Werner Herzog.
Fans of Herzog’s work are aware of his iconic and volatile working relationship with the late method actor Klaus Kinski, one of the most bizarre and fascinating of director/muse pairings in film history.
It was that legacy that first attracted Cage to the role.
“Werner has a high tolerance for intensity,” Cage says. “He gave me the freedom to experiment with my performance but also find the dark humour in the outrageousness of the characters behavior.”
Part of Bad Lieutenant’s power also lies in the thick, sweaty atmosphere Herzog wrings out of battered New Orleans locales.
But surprisingly, it was Cage who suggested they move the action essayed in William Finkelstein’s screenplay to the Louisiana city which, to further the influence on Cage’s persona, is also the birthplace of jazz itself.
“I’m pretty connected to New Orleans,” Cage admits. “When I directed Sonny there (referring to his 2002 directorial debut), I had this strange, frightening, personal experience and I had to leave immediately. But as time went on, I wanted to finally face those demons.”