Bad Lieutenant

1992, Movie, NC-17, 96 mins

Review

BAD LIEUTENANT
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The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) is a New York City cop who's juggling two lives. At home, he's a family man who just wants the best for his wife and extended flock of relatives. On the job, he's a rogue agent heading for disaster. He drinks too much and has a coke problem; he abuses suspects and extorts sexual favors from prostitutes and drug addicts, including his strung-out mistress (Zoe Tamarlaine Lund, who co-wrote the screenplay and starred in Ferrara's early cult hit, MS. 45); and he's a compulsive gambler deep in hock to the Mafia.

All that changes when a young nun (Frankie Thorn) is brutally raped during a robbery at a convent in Spanish Harlem. The Lieutenant quickly launches his own investigation, figuring that he can use the reward money to pay off his debts. More importantly, his search takes on the aspect of a spiritual quest for redemption, even as he simultaneously indulges in a suicidal gambling spree that increases his indebtedness to an exasperated mob bookie.

The director of such stylish thrillers as CHINA GIRL and KING OF NEW YORK, Abel Ferrara has made his reputation by balancing lurid narratives and lush, seductive visuals. BAD LIEUTENANT is actually an aesthetic throwback to Ferrara's earliest work, 1979's DRILLER KILLER; it is harsh, gritty and utterly uncompromising. The photography has the bleak, documentary look of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, heavy on the hand-held camera; the editing is rough and jarring. One can empathize with the characters, but it's hard to imagine liking any of them.

Harvey Keitel gives an astonishing performance here, playing a tortured soul who simultaneously revels in self-loathing and yearns for absolution. Excellent supporting performances, including Lund's turn as a philosophizing junkie, round out the picture. Though hardly a film for all sensibilities, BAD LIEUTENANT has the courage of its own convictions, and follows them to the bitter end. leave a comment

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