In the 1970's and 1980's Werner Herzog filmmaking was simply kamikaze especially the films he shoot with his long time friend/enemy Klaus Kinski. He never attained the virtuosity and inspiration of this period. Meanwhile, his films still have this raw filmmaking energy that only Herzog can bring into a film. Without a doubt he his a real author, and he gave the opportunity to the overrated Nic Cage to give one of his best performance ever.
Being a remake of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (a film I haven't seen yet), Herzog's film is set in a different location and in another time. I won't make comparisons or parallels between the two films because: first, I haven't seen the oiginal material and second, it would be boring to do so.
Herzog always had this realistic approach to cinematography and he even shoot scenes in a very naturalistic animal documentary style. The opening sequence with the snake in the water is sumptuous and intriguing, because the viewer asks himself how low the film will go? A lot like Herzog's Nosferatu with the opening with the skulls that makes a grim atmosphere. The snake in the water represents how the Lieutenant will go "bad", how evil will touch him and make an unerasable mark on him. Later in the film there are other sequences with animals/reptiles. The two iguanas and the two crocodiles. They signify how this world of excess will disintegrate society. Each insert of them is shot in a very unique way and it makes a weird pause in the telling of the story. It seems like if we were the only ones to see them like it if was an hallucination of the main character.
Another important topic and main issue of the film is the drug sellings that leads to the murderers and the drug abuses by the Lieutenant himself. The paths are crossed and the milieux of Police and Drug are so closed that we feel that these worlds are parallel to each other. This is a denunciation of how Drugs destroy the better and the worse of humans. The Lieutenant that will execute his mission, the football player, the prostitute, etc. It touches every character of the movie and it makes a statement that it represents everything that's wrong in this country. The conclusion of the film is beyond cinema itself, there are no happy endings in drug addiction and even success can't erase it completely.
Herzog's latest offering is a great achievement, while throwing a very conventional police plot it advances a real antihero that even with his worst he can get to his goal. Just for the cinematography the film is worth the look. Herzog didn't offers an effort as strong as his Aguirre or his Fitzcarraldo but he offers an honest and well directed film.