Live Home Video | Review by Dan Taylor
film should quell, once and for all, the
heinous rumors that Abel Ferrara will be
directing the big-screen version of TV's
beloved sitcom, FATHER KNOWS BEST. Unless,
of course, they transform Robert Young's
lovable dad into a coke-snorting, profanity-spewing
scumbag who solves family problems with
the business end of a revolver.
BAD LIEUTENANT is an unforgettable
film, fresh from the sewer-drenched mind
of director/writer Ferrara who brought
us the classics MS. .45, CHINA GIRL and
KING OF NEW YORK and co-writer/supporting
Lund. [Ed. Note: Lund died in Paris
in May 1999 due to heart failure. You can
read Josh Long's interview with Ms. Lund,
originally published in ER #37.]
Set in New York City during
the waning days of a playoff series between
the Mets and the Dodgers, the movie follows
the never-named Lieutenant of the title,
played with ballsy glee by Harvey Keitel.
Keitel, whose career is experiencing somewhat
of a rebirth these days, is a cop that has
gone beyond dirty, straight into the realm
of filthy. Imagine the worst cop you've
ever heard of...he's a Boy Scout compared
to Keitel's looie.
The token mystery of the story
involves the rape of a virginal young nun
(imagine Bridget Fonda with a better set)...the
Lieutenant, in deep to a bookie and in deeper
to the drugs that he's selling and pushing
into his body, wants to bring the punks
responsible for the brutal crime to justice.
All this, despite the fact that the nun
has forgiven them, has turned their violence
into a (real or imagined) impassioned plea.
Filled with religious imagery and visual
commentary, it helps to bring the saddlebag
of guilt that is a Catholic upbringing to
The mystery/story to the film
is secondary, much in the way that the discovery
of the ear is secondary to the real story
of BLUE VELVET. Like Kyle MacLachlan's descent
into darkness in that vile and violent classic,
BAD LIEUTENANT is really about Keitel's
attempt to reverse his plummet before he
bottoms out completely. He sells drugs,
shoots drugs, steals money, gambles excessively,
masturbates (the ultimate Catholic crime
sex without pro-creation!), and cheats
on his wife, yet wishes to deliver true
justice in repayment for the "many
bad things" he has done throughout
Those of you expecting a mystery
or any insight into the police work involved
in pursuing the perpetrators will be sorely
disappointed. That side of the character's
life doesn't interest Ferrara in the least.
Instead, he's much more concerned with pushing
the title character into further, more despicable
acts against his own person. Devoid of any
scenes of the police actually doing anything
(they take pictures of dead bodies, question
the nun a little and talk baseball alot),
BAD LT. lovingly soaks in the seamy side
of the city that Ferrara has chronicled
so well in his best films (and even in DRILLER
KILLER, his most flawed early work).
Gritty and discomforting
the nun's physical rape and Keitel's verbal
rape of two big-haired Jersey chicks are
extremely unsettling scenes Ferrara
makes effective use of the "no limits"
NC-17 rating. Though the film is (ultimately)
powerful and is (constantly) disorienting
and unsettling, the best reason to see it
is for Keitel's rough-hewn performance.
Like Gary Oldman's Sid, the ultimate goal
seems to be "how fucked up can we get
this character before we lose the audience."
Amazingly enough, writer, actor and director
reel him in at the moment of his deepest
desperation, providing some semblance of
audience sympathy for this absolute wretch
of a human being.
Just writing about it
makes me want to get a shower. This is probably
the first four star film I've seen that
I have no intention of watching again.