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Bad Lieutenant (1992)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama  |  17 December 1992 (Argentina)
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Ratings: 7.1/10 from 27,640 users   Metascore: 67/100
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While investigating a young nun's rape, a corrupt New York City police detective, with a serious drug and gambling addiction, tries to change his ways and find forgiveness.



(as Zoe Lund) ,
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Beat Cop
Cop #1 (as Paul Calderone)
Cop #2 (as Leonard Thomas)
Robin Burrows ...
The Nun
Victoria Bastel ...
Brian McElroy ...
Frankie Acciarito ...
Lieutenant's Wife
Lieutenant's Daughter
Dana Dee ...
Lieutenant's Baby Girl
Anthony Ruggiero ...


A police Lieutenant goes about his daily tasks of investigating homicides, but is more interested in pursuing his vices. He has accumulated a massive debt betting on baseball, and he keeps doubling to try to recover. His bookies are beginning to get agitated. The Lieutenant does copious amounts of drugs, cavorts with prostitutes, and uses his status to take advantage of teenage girls. While investigating a nun's rape, he begins to reflect on his lifestyle. Written by Ed Sutton <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop.


Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for drug use, language, violence and nudity | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

17 December 1992 (Argentina)  »

Also Known As:

Teniente corrupto  »

Box Office


$1,000,000 (estimated)


$2,000,022 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (R-rated)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


For its video release, the British Board of Film Classification insisted that 1 minute and 47 seconds of footage be excised. The cuts were largely made in the scene where Harvey Keitel takes drugs with Zoe Lund. See more »


In the club, when LT is snorting drugs with the tall guy, the Lords of Acid song "Let's Get High" begins to play (at the middle of the song) right before the scene is cut. Then, in the next scene, LT is in a different part of the club and we hear the same song start playing again, but this time it starts from the very beginning. See more »


The Lieutenant: You raped a holy thing. You destroyed that young girl. And she forgives you. Ya hear that? She forgives you. You fucking heroes. Ya like holding her down and shoving your dick into her? While she couldn't do nothing about it. Did you like that? Watch this motherfucker! Watch this you cocksucker! Look at that! You can't do a thing about that can you? Can you? Look at me! Can you? Can you fuckface? Can you? There, move. Move you cockscker. Move. I'd like to blow your fucking face apart.
See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Beginning of the End (1993) See more »


Written by Adams / Van Lierop / Praga Khan (as Somora)
(P) 1991 Be's Songs
Performed by Lords of Acid
Used by permission of Antler / Subway Records & Caroline Records
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Rough content, but beautifully bleak and harrowing
26 April 2005 | by (East Anglia, UK) – See all my reviews

People are probably right enough when they comment that this entire film essentially hinges on Harvey Kietel's impassioned performance as the corrupt and deeply troubled lieutenant of the title. Which shouldn't necessarily be taken as a shortcoming - an engrossing lead is the one key thing that any one-man character study like this needs in order to flourish, after all. Whether sobbing, howling or clenching his jaws in anguish, or else hanging his head and sipping liquor in silence, his acting here is always raw, convincing and utterly compelling; the kind of portrayal you'd be hard-pressed to take your eyes off. The exact identity of his character is never revealed, but the title informs us he's a 'bad lieutenant', a label seemingly confirmed by his tendency to indulge in substance abuse, work up heavy gambling debts and even, on occasion, pull over a couple of young female drivers and use them as motivation for his own self-pleasure. Very lurid, and yet the way that Kietel plays him also makes feel completely human. He conveys such pain and desperation behind his each and every immoral action that they never come across as nearly as shocking or vulgar to watch as they are harrowing. It's this alone that enables 'Bad Lieutenant' as a whole to reach the true extent of its potential - what could easily be read off as a plethora of fury, drug-taking, masturbation and full-frontal nudity in practice translates very aptly into a sad and striking depiction of a despondent man who's lost his ability to see goodness in anything in life, and who's sinking ever deeper beneath the weight of all those answers being continuously sought in the wrong places. As you've probably worked out by now, this isn't exactly the balmiest movie you could spending your time with (might be wrong, but I don't think there's a single light-hearted moment to be found in the entire screenplay), but if you can bring yourself to look past the sourness on the surface and instead feel sympathy for this bad lieutenant, as Kietel's involving performance invites us to do, then you'll find some considerable power lurking in its bleakness.

So, while it's Harvey Kietel who really (and rightly) brings things together in 'Bad Lieutenant' and makes it the affecting near-masterpiece that it is, it would be unfair of me to completely overlook Ferrara's role in this equation. He's provided the context against which our centrepiece man must function - a world so run-down, sombre and nihilistic that trying to find redemption round here seems not only impossible, but practically pointless. The mood is well-set by the ever-overcast skies; killing, rape and robbery are rampant, and the Lt isn't exactly given a great deal to aspire to in his day-to-day life. Kietel and his character are admittedly the only things here that come off as particularly outstanding - the vast majority of supporting characters are really all just part of this one big daunting backdrop, with dialogue, screen time and development kept to a strict minimum in each case - though personally I look at this as being more of an additional strength than as a weakness. That everyone else around him always seems so distant only increases the overall feelings of detachment and isolation that draw us deeper into the Lt's outlook.

Christian faith and symbolism are pretty integral to the overall themes of this movie, but even being non-religious myself I find I can still get a good deal of emotional investment in it. It delivers its underlying issues - of non-judgement and the potential for goodness in even the most repellent of sinners - with acute precision, as reflected in the investigation concerning the raping of a young nun which the plot loosely revolves around. While this heinous crime only serves to strengthen the Lt's belief in the general depravity of the world around him, the nun herself has found solace in her refusal to condemn those who wronged her, viewing them instead as victims as their own confusion and despair. There are of course some fairly sharp parallels between this scenario and the Lt's own personal predicament, which any viewer who's really come to feel for him will recognise - as displeasing as some of the things he himself gets up to may be (and the way he incorporates further crime into his efforts to uphold the law), there's that challenge lying at the centre of every scene as to whether or not we're really in any position to pass judgement upon him. All things considered, is it truly a bad lieutenant that he is at heart or just, well, a sad one?

I don't imagine that everyone will quite take to the conclusion this eventually leads to (and which I'm not going to give away here), but considering just how weighty a lot of the issues it addresses really are, you never get the impression that Ferrara ever intended to come up with a cut-and-dried solution of any sorts. Instead, he and Kietel have put together a polished and powerful piece of film-making that, though it deals with some pretty disagreeable and, at the time at least, controversial subject matter, is so rich in great acting (well, one great performance, but it's easily worth the input of an entire cast) and slick atmospherics that it becomes entirely captivating. In the end, it's the surprising amount of depth and emotional muscle that it carries, and not the notorious reputation that it garnered, that 'Bad Lieutenant' really deserves to be remembered for - and remembered I hope it always will be. Another great in early 90s cinema.

Grade: A

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