Directed by Abel Ferrara
The Lieutenant…Harvey Keitel
The Nun…Frankie Thorn
I know that this film is supposed to be a study of what happens when those who uphold the law are worse than those whom they are trying to catch. I know that it is also supposed to have a spiritual undertone about the power of forgiveness, repentance and retribution. And I know that this is basically Ferrara trying to out-Scorsese Scorsese. What I don’t know, however, is how this film has built up the reputation that it has.
Havey Keitel is the unnamed angry, violent, hard-drinking, cocaine-snorting, crack-smoking, heroin-shooting, drug-dealing, prostitute-nailing, masturbating, chronic-gambling, baseball fanatic Lieutenant who shakes down suspects and has the occasional vision of Jesus. More often than not, he can be seen engaged in some sort of illegal activity or immoral debauchery, even when supposedly “on the job.” And this is the man we trust to keep the streets safe?
The “plot” doesn’t begin until the Lieutenant is placed on the case of a nun who has been brutally raped, but she has forgiven her attackers and refuses to identify them. This film actually could have been interesting if it had dealt with this more, but basically it’s Keitel watching baseball on television, listening to baseball on the radio, or talking about baseball with other cops for an extremely dull 90 minutes. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of sports talk radio, and the lack of music makes it seem gritty and real. If the high life is as boring as this portrayal, Bad Lieutenant could quite possibly be the most effective PSA ever. The drug use, coupled with a decidedly unattractive shot of Keitel’s floppy Johnson, brought with it an NC-17 rating, which only served to fuel the hype that the movie itself can’t live up to.
Maybe I just don’t “get it” because I’m not from New York, and I’ll probably be banned from a whole slew of super-elite genre circles for condemning this cult favorite, but that’s the price you pay for honesty.
If you want Scorsese, rent Scorsese. Taxi Driver this ain’t.
Bad Lieutenant is currently ranked #8,463 in DVD's at Amazon.com. Read more about it at the IMDB, rent it at Netflix, or buy it today!
"You raped a holy thing."