A bad lieutenant lives the bad double life of a sort of crooked cop in the new south post-Katrina. He swindles for drugs, his “girl” is a prostitute, he manipulates criminals and idiots but they probably deserve it, and he becomes a classic modernist anti-hero who pisses on the rules of a corrupt system, all the while keeping good faith and intent, yet corrupts himself in the process nonetheless.
Herzog’s macabre motifs (reptiles, the ocean (invader), Nicholas Cage (his own kind of reptile)) are splattered here and there for appropriately bizarre and eerie effect. The effect, finally, is one of a narcotic high that comes down better than it should. Or does it? When a man sees he can’t escape his own fate: then what? As of this writing, of all living, recently working directors, only Werner Herzog can operate in this kind of subliminal space with any serious merit, taking a mundane story with little existential will, and turning it into his unique brand of sublime without a hint of flashy stupidity. Stupidity there is, but it’s of a knowing, measured, seasoned kind that is magnificently absurd, as opposed to plain idiotic, like CSI:NY or Hawaii 5.0.