essential werner herzog films

Fitzcarraldo. Grizzly Man. Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Little Dieter Needs to Fly. These are what many cinephiles might call the essential Werner Herzog films. For anyone who saw him for the first time as an actor in The Mandalorian, were intrigued by him, learned he was also an acclaimed director, and are looking to dive into his filmography, those entries would be a good place to start.

But if you ask the man himself, another film should be included in those ranks: 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which stars Nicolas Cage as a corrupt, hallucinating police officer. 

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was loosely inspired by Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Harvey Keitel film Bad Lieutenant, but the only significant comparison point is that there’s a corrupt cop at the center of the story. If you’ve never seen the movie, well, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a small taste of a scene to whet your appetite, in which Cage hallucinates two iguanas during a sting operation and Herzog essentially stops the movie to give the iguanas several extreme close-ups:

And don’t forget about the scene in which he chokes an old woman in a nursing home, threatens her nurse, and then nearly blows them both away with a giant handgun:

“I have such wonderful memories of making the film, and Nicolas Cage, what a phenomenal actor he is,” Herzog told Inverse earlier this month. The movie was a financial bomb, but that doesn’t seem to have affected the iconoclastic director’s opinion of it – he literally called it “one of my essential films,” and seems to revel in the memory of making it.

“There was a conspiracy between the two of us,” Herzog says, referencing Cage. “He said, ‘I’m not gonna sign my contract unless Werner Herzog is on board as a director,’ and I said, ‘I’m not gonna say my contract unless Nicolas is on board.’ And it was a wonderful collaboration.”

It was so wonderful, in fact, that Herzog says he would reunite with Cage “immediately” if he had a script that fit the actor’s talents. “If I have a story where he would fit as leading character or maybe as an antagonist…he’s good in broken characters — well, you know what Nicolas Cage can do. But he’s at his best, his finest performance ever, in my opinion, in Bad Lieutenant. And if I have a story, I would not hesitate five seconds to call him up and invite him. I think he would not hesitate to work with me again.”

We can only hope that happens one day soon.

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