BAD LIEUTENANT — CLASSIC FILM PICK
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Alongside "Reservoir Dogs," Able Ferrara's 1992 tour-de-force crime drama provides an epic showcase for Harvey Keitel's impressive acting abilities. Keitel’s no-holds-barred performance sets the high watermark for how much commitment any actor can ever hope to devote to a role.
Similar in tenor to Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," this tragic story of suicidal redemption follows anti-hero Keitel as a nameless police lieutenant addicted to all forms of vice — which, as an officer of the law, he is supposed to be combating.
He spends his days doubling down on bad baseball bets, extorting sex from random women, stealing cash from crime scenes, and numbing himself in the company of prostitutes with copious amounts of cocaine and heroin.
Ferrara's brilliant direction captures a raw '80s-era Manhattan in which crime is king on its economically distressed streets.
Episodic in form, the movie lurches from one hazy scene of reckless debauchery to the next, each examining Keitel's inner monologue of social and religious dysfunction. Steeped in old-school Catholicism, the tragically flawed “bad” lieutenant endures something akin to a nervous breakdown inside a church where a Catholic nun has just been raped. Ferrara based the story on an actual Harlem rape that local powers that be tried to keep out of the news.
After seeing a vision of Jesus in the church, Keitel’s wayward cop furiously begs for forgiveness of his countless sins. Soaring to a Marlon Brando level of dedication, Keitel's performance is nothing short of earth shattering. Co-written by Paul Calderon and Ferrara-regular Zoë Lund ("Ms. 45"), "Bad Lieutenant" arrives at an inspired dual climax that aspires to — and achieves — a Shakespearian quality of catharsis.
"Bad Lieutenant" is a microcosm of a crisis moment in New York existence and a unique view of masculine self-destructiveness. It marks a high point for Abel Ferrara's career. Despite its dated place in time, the movie resonates with a daring urgency that is as genuine today as when the film was made.