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 and redemption.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 and redemption.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 and redemption.
By Blake French:
Abel Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant" could be a solid tale of spiritual redemption if not for the pervasive material through which the film demonstrates its immorality. It contrasts the most disturbing, obscene human behavior with compassion and forgiveness, but the extreme nature of the content and the film's insistence on it's portrayal swindles the spiritual impact. For once a movie deserves the notorious NC-17 rating-the Motion Picture Association of America's most restrictive emblem placed on movies submitted for a rating-but the story contains a message that's more humble and spiritual than most inoffensive productions about spirituality.
These filmmakers may or may not realize the potential religious impact their product is capable of achieving. It's a very religious film; churches could use this to demonstrate the power of forgiveness and the strength of God's love. Unfortunately many audiences will misinterpret the graphic adult content and strong language as excessively dirty-but this is not a dirty movie. The content is necessary for the exceptional contrast to work. It displays the goodness in people through their wrong doings. Though I still wouldn't recommend gathering the kids around to watch this movie.
Harvey Keitel plays a character whom the movie calls only "Bad Lieutenant." He's at a stage in his life when human characteristics no longer matter. Filled with fury, need, and depression, his temporary remedies-sex, drugs, and gambling-no longer fulfill his hunger for pleasure. But his family doesn't care anymore. He drops his kids off for school, does bad things during the day, and comes home to collapse on the couch at night. This character does not imagine himself as anything but bad. He interrupts a grocery store robbery only to let the thieves go on a bribe. He buys drugs from drug dealers in exchange for their immunity. He stops a pair of young women in a car only to blackmail them into an unpleasant form of verbal rape.
The story takes a twist. Several low lives brutally rape a young nun. The nun, who knows her rapists, refuses to reveal their identities because she forgives them for their crime. The bad lieutenant cannot believe a victim can forgive such an atrocity. If this woman can forgive her debtors, could anyone forgive his sins as well?
Whether the bad lieutenant turns his life around I will leave you to discover. But this idea might be a side issue in the plot. "Bad Lieutenant" displays more of an interest in the dirty lifestyle of the title character than in his decision to seek forgiveness for his sins. Only during the final minutes does Keitel's character realize his choices. Surprisingly, however, the film's ending takes the easy way out in a complete refusal to look redemption in the eye. This ending blends in with the events because of stark, honest realism, but we never comprehend the character's intentions for the future.
Dark and cringe-inducing, "Bad Lieutenant" is not a fun movie to watch and don't expect to hold your popcorn down if you walk in unprepared. Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund wrote the script looking into deep, private crevices of the human soul. They travel to places many people will find extremely uncomfortable. It's a harrowing character study portrayed through an unreserved, courageous performance. Harvey Keitel takes a huge risk here-most actors would not want such a character to follow their public image. But Keitel does not hesitate to characterize the bad lieutenant without compromise, mercy, or restraint.
Hats off to you, Harvey.
- Sep 19, 2001