Bad Lieutenant

1992

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

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If police lieutenant Harvey Keitel's life could get any more sordid, he could probably sell tickets. The least of his vices is gambling, which has gotten him in Dutch with the mob. He abuses his body with drugs and his soul with hookers, and now he's turned to exploiting teenage girls for sex. Keitel is forced to reassess his life while investigating the rape of a nun. Director Abel Ferrara co-wrote the screenplay with Zoe Lund, who as Zoe Tamerlis starred in Ferrara's cult classic Ms. 45. A soundtrack tune by rapper Schoolly D, which was included in the initial release of Bad Lieutenant, featured a sample from Led Zeppelin which was used without permission; the song has since been excised from the soundtrack. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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Cast

Harvey Keitel
as The Lieutenant
Victor Argo
as Beat Cop
Paul Hipp
as Jesus
Brian McElroy
as Lieutenant's Son Number 1
Frankie Acciario
as Lieutenant's Son Number 2
Peggy Gormley
as Lieutenant's Wife
Stella Keitel
as Lieutenant's Daughter
John Steven Jones
as Kid Number 2
Shawn McLean
as Kid Number 1
Stephen Chen
as Korean Store Owner
Frank Acciarto
as Lt.'s Son Number 2
Lambert Moss
as Veronica
Nicholas Decegli
as Limelight Guide
Larry Mullane
as Detective Larry
Bo Dietl
as Detective Bo
Nicholas de Cegli
as Limelight Guide
Gene Canfield
as Irish Cop
John Clohessy
as Radio Announcer
Eddie Daniels
as Jersey Girl Driver
Bob Murphy
as Play by Play Announcer
Bianca Bakiia
as Jersey Girl Passenger
Ed Kovens
as Monsignor
Minnie Gentry
as Elderly Woman
Mike Fella
as Detective Mike
Mike Ciravolo
as Detective Michael
John Cloghessy
as Radio Announcer Number 2
Chris 'Mad Dog' Russo
as Radio Announcer Number 1
Warner Fusselle
as Play-by-Play Announcer
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Critic Reviews for Bad Lieutenant

All Critics (43) | Top Critics (11)

Members of the gutter-al elite will be the sole survivors.

Apr 9, 2008

Bad Lieutenant is finally a pulp parable of sin, addiction, and redemption, a movie that, like its subversive hero, revels in the pleasure -- and danger -- of going too far.

Apr 9, 2008 | Rating: A- | Full Review…

Abel Ferrara's uncompromising Bad Lieutenant is a harrowing journey with a corrupt N.Y. cop sinking into the lower depths.

Apr 9, 2008 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

There's an undeniable formal elegance in the way Ferrara, who coauthored the script with Zoe Lund, frames and holds certain shots, and Keitel certainly gives his all.

Apr 9, 2008 | Full Review…

Ferrara allows his star to dictate the pace, and is rewarded with a performance of extraordinary, terrifying honesty.

Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

When Abel Ferrara calls something bad, better believe it: he means business.

May 20, 2003 | Rating: 3.5/5

Audience Reviews for Bad Lieutenant

½

Bad Lieutenant is an intense drama directed by Abel Ferara and starring Harvey Keitel in an intense performance that is one of his darkest roles of his career. He plays a corrupt cop, and he searches for salvation after years of drug abuse and gambling. Atmospheric and dark, Bad Lieutenant is one of Ferara's finest directorial efforts along with King of New York. What makes this a truly compelling picture is the way that Keitel delivers a powerful performance that is truly disturbing. Ferara's direction here is much more focused than his previous work, and he has matured as a director that truly knows how to create an effective and memorable drama. The story is very good and is an intense portrayal of corruption. Keitel dominates the screen with his presence and he is perfect for the part. Add to that Ferara's raw, gritty direction and you have a stellar picture that resonates with the viewer. Abel Ferara is a master at crafting exploitation films, and with Bad Lieutenant he delivers a film that has genre elements, but added flair to make a somewhat more mainstream picture. The result is a drama that feels real, in your face and above all memorable. Ferara manages to make you feel that you're in the chaos and in turn makes you feel uncomfortable. The film is not perfect, but it is a film that is entertaining, thrilling and is a roller coaster ride in the lead characters life. Brilliantly acted, directed and shot, Bad Lieutenant is a gritty picture that is constantly riveting and thrilling. Abel Ferara has crafted a strong film, and quite possible the strongest film of his career, and he manages to take the elements of his early work, and revamp it to make a much more serious picture, and like King of New York, Bad Lieutenant is Ferara's strongest work.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer

½

It took me years to finally see this, and, I think that might be a problem. Had I seen this when I was in high school, I would probably had loved it. Since that's not the case, I can say that I appreciate it, and kind of like it, but have no problem calling it an overhyped letdown (to a degree). Trafficking in minimalism, this is a raw, visceral, grim, and gritty character about a tortured police lieutenant who is basically the most corrupt and vile cop ever. He spends most of his time abusing his body with sex, drugs, and booze, abusing his power as a cop, and racking up a sizable gambling debt. He's a slimy, unlikable worm, but all of that changes when he investigates the brutal rape of a nun. Amazed that she can forgive her attackers, he decides that maybe he too can be redeemed. There's really not much of a plot. It's pretty much just scene after scene of debauchry and filth, with heavy amounts of Catholic themes and imagery thrown in with all the awfulness. I do appreciate and admire the film's look at sinfulness and faith, but it all feels rather pointless. Keitel is pretty great though as the titular character. It's a career defining (and very brave) turn, but I think he may have gone a little too off the rails at times, with some of his wailing coming off as laughable as opposed to genuine and moving. The film is at least well shot, atmospheric, and moody. It's just also really really unpleasant, joyless, and tough to endure. As I said, I admire it, but I don't know if I really like it. It's overrated, but in a way, I kind of appreciate the trashiness, if only for the fact that there is a place for it in this messed up world of ours.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

½

The Lieutenant: I'm sorry, Lord. I've done so many bad things.  "Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop." Before finally seeing Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, I knew what to expect. I've seeing the semi-remake from Werner Herzog, which I liked. The subject matter isn't what you'd call cheery. Bad Lieutenant's title is pretty self explanatory. It is about a cop, and a not so good one at that. That doesn't mean he isn't good at his job. It means he is a bad person. He gets himself in deep by gambling. He does a variety of drugs. He drinks. He uses teenage girls for sex. If there's a terrible thing you can think of; odds are The Lieutenant does it. There's really not much plot here. It's all about the man. So based purely on that short synopsis, you should be able to decide whether it is a movie that you could handle.  Although this is rated NC-17, it isn't as graphic as you would think. Today, this would get an R rating. Not that the rating has any basis in what I think of the film, I just thought I would get that out of the way. I was actually surprised by how un-graphic the film was. Sure there's a lot of cussing, and a lot of drug use; but today that is common, so it doesn't really shock. The sexual content is mostly implied, unlike Herzog's film.  This whole film relies on Harvey Keitel's performance as The Lieutenant, and he does a really good job as usual. The scenes where he breaks down are his best. He is powerful in them. Other than that though, there is really nothing noteworthy about Bad Lieutenant. Ferrara's direction is nothing to write home about. There is some good camera work, but that doesn't really elevate the film in my eyes.  I'll give this a mild recommendation purely because of Keitel's powerhouse performance. I didn't really like the movie though. It may suffer in my eyes more than someone who hasn't seen Herzog's film, though. I thought his was amazing; so by comparison, this one just underwhelms me in about every possible way. The only thing better about it, is the lead performance. Keitel is going to out perform Cage obviously. Overall, it isn't a terrible movie. We see what Ferrara's point is with this character study through Keitel's performance. I just wish it would have had something else going for it.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

Since attracting the wrath of the BBFC with his debut feature Driller Killer, Abel Ferrara has carved out a niche as one of the most difficult and uncompromising filmmakers of our time. His forthright personality off-screen is matched only by the hard-talking, macho nature of his films, which range from the gruesome rape revenge thriller Ms. 45 to the poignant but swaggering China Girl. In Bad Lieutenant, arguably his most audacious work, he gives us a film about guilt, redemption and unbearable human suffering, constructed around one of the greatest performances of the 1990s. Bad Lieutenant is a slow-burning, often thoughtful character study scripted by Zoe Lund, a model-turned-actress who starred in Ms. 45. It follows the tortured lifestyle of an unnamed New York police lieutenant who is deeply in debt to the mob through bets made on a baseball series. On top of his gambling addiction he is also a cocaine and heroin addict, who steals drugs from crime scenes to sell on the street so he can fund his other habit, namely women. In the midst of all this, somehow being able to keep his job, he is assigned to track down two men who have brutally raped a young nun, played by Frankie Thorn. For this kind of character to be believable, you need an actor with weight, experience and a threatening screen presence - and no-one meets those criteria better than Harvey Keitel. After a relatively quiet 1980s, Keitel was experiencing a revival with critical plaudits for his work on Thelma and Louise and Bugsy, the latter of which brought him his first (and so far only) Oscar nomination. Around the same time he played Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs, a role popularly perceived as his comeback. But out of the two this is the more remarkable performance, which makes any talk of a 'comeback' seem like damning with faint praise. Keitel's performance in Bad Lieutenant is one of the best of his career, up there with his early work on Mean Streets or The Duellists. He truly and painfully inhabits the nameless Lieutenant, giving a performance of such raw, unmitigated honesty that we empathise with him even in his most unspeakable moments. We genuinely feel the torture of the lieutenant as he descends further and further into hell on the streets of New York, faced with both his growing personal problems and a case which is impossible to solve. It's a performance of blood, sweat, tears and God knows what else, and the result is both frightening and heartbreaking. In terms of Keitel's back catalogue, the film to which Bad Lieutenant is closest is Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese has almost admitted this comparison, including Bad Lieutenant on his list of Greatest Films of the 1990s. Both Travis Bickle and the Bad Lieutenant are driven, obsessive loners, who inhabit a world which is drowning in corruption and sin, and whose motivation comes from a desire to fight against the all-engulfing tide. But where Travis is positioned as God's lonely man, the Lieutenant has one foot firmly in hell and only gains complete moral conviction in the final stages of the film. Bad Lieutenant is at heart a story of Catholic redemption. Keitel is haunted by the mistakes he has made in the past, and his regrets are tempered by an admittance that it is all his fault. His bets with the mob's bookie become increasingly absurd, so that during the scene in the club the broker advises Keitel that it would be cheaper and easier just to have him killed. The Lieutenant's many years on the streets have made him incapable of forgiving people or understand the grace or mercy of God. When his nieces receive their first communion, he watches from a distance, unable to connect with either the service or the beliefs it upholds. There are a number of deeply striking sequences in Bad Lieutenant which convey the seemingly impossible prospect of redemption in the midst of all the horror unfolding on screen. The best and most extraordinary of these comes in the church, where Keitel questions the nun over her refusal to identify the men who raped her. She refuses to identify her attackers on the grounds that her rape raises the prospect of God's grace being bestowed on the two men. After she leaves, Keitel breaks down and see a vision of Christ standing in the church. He crawls along the floor, weeping and wailing, wanting to grasp the mysteries of God and forgiveness but being unable to reconcile that with his own shallow nature. It's an extraordinary scene in which the temporal and spiritual collide in a moment of pure passion and emotion, leaving the character devastated and the audience astonished. After coming out of his vision, Keitel manages to track down the two men who raped the nun, but rather than turning them in, he gives them all the money he has and puts them on the first bus out of town. He does so against his better judgement, but even while he berates himself as the bus drives away, he knows in his heart that it was the right thing to do. In these scenes the Lieutenant realises in practice the true grace and compassion of Christ, with his decision mirroring that of the nun; like Thomas in the Gospels, he believes because he has seen. The film ends with the Lieutenant being murdered in his car: what seems like a cruel accident could equally be a blessed release, with the Lieutenant finally reaching heaven having performed God's works here on Earth. Because Abel Ferrara started out as a grindhouse director, the spiritual aspects of Bad Lieutenant are not handled in a sugar-coated, airy-fairy way. Instead they come as ecstatic interludes to really brutal scenes involving nudity, violence and copious amounts of swearing, which earned the film an 18 certificate in the UK and a rare NC-17 in the States. The film contains several very realistic depictions of drug-taking. Ferrara shoots long, uninterrupted takes in which Keitel meets with his stick-thin dealer, and warms heroin on a spoon with a lighter before injecting it into his arm. In one of the very first scenes, Keitel uses a coke spoon immediately after dropping his young nephews off to school. These scenes are shot in such clinical detail as to make drug-taking about as unglamorous as you can get: as in Requiem for a Dream, the high of taking the drug is cancelled out or overridden by the immediately painful consequences. This discipline on Ferrara's part is equally present in the rape scene. Having previously made Ms. 45, Ferrara was well aware of the way such scenes would be structured in a duplicitous way: we almost tolerate the horrible violence because we are on the moral side of the victim and are goading her on to take revenge. But Bad Lieutenant doesn't fall into the kind of hideous duplicity present in I Spit On Your Grave. The rape scene focusses on the emotion of the nun and is intentionally repulsive. To reinforce the Christian element of the story, it is intercut with Christ on the cross, screaming as the nun screams. It's a shocking and original way of conveying the idea of Christ feeling every single pain and sin of mankind as He hung there on Good Friday. Most controversial of all is a scene halfway through Bad Lieutenant, in which Keitel pulls over two girls, to find that they are stoned and driving without a license. Rather than turn them in, he asks one of them to strip and the other to mimic oral sex while he masturbates outside the car. James Ferman, then-Head Censor of the BBFC, was asked on several occasions why he didn't cut that scene; he responded that it was so repulsive that no sane person could possibly find it arousing. The scene is repulsive and goes on a little too long, but it does at least reinforce the distance and desperation of the Lieutenant, and arguably a graphic sex scene with girls half his age would be the greater of two evils. There are flaws with Bad Lieutenant which prevent it from being a masterpiece. Even as we invest so deeply in Keitel's performance, we can't help wondering why he has been able to stay on the force all this time. He makes next to no effort to cover up his behaviour, and it seems a little far-fetched that even his seasoned colleagues would turn such a blind eye. As the character study deepens, the crime plot becomes almost totally peripheral, and in its weaker moments it can feel like Ferrara is testing our mettle for its own sake, seeing how much nastiness we can take before bringing back the plot to give us relief. In the end, however, Bad Lieutenant rises above these flaws as a triumphant example of how exploitation cinema can explore serious ideas, in ways which are often more insightful and frequently more provocative than its mainstream equivalents. Keitel is outstanding in the title role, and Ferrara's direction is both merciless and mesmerising. It's a very tough watch for those not familiar with Ferrara or the traditions he has espoused throughout this career. But for those who can go the distance, it is a deeply moving piece of work.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

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