Bad Lieutenant (1992)



Abel Ferrera doesn’t just make weird movies. He is a weird dude. One need look no further than his audio commentary for “The Driller Killer:”  he spends most of the films ninety minutes mumbling incoherently in between blasting outs, and then finally screams in an uproar and leaves the commentary at the end of the picture, because it doesn’t end where he wants it to. He has also directed porn.

But sometimes he gets it right. His films can have an undeniable power. Such is the case with “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), a tale about, you guess it…a bad lieutenant. Harvey Keitel plays LT, and he does it with a fearlessness that is not seen often in movies, but is seen often in Keitel’s output. He is a drug addicted, gambling, two timing leach of a man, who uses his badge to get by, and is not afraid of swinging his gun around.

Speaking of swinging a gun around, this is Ferrera’s hyper reality, so don’t mind that LT blasts a few rounds in a convenience store to get things under control with no consequences, nor that he occasionally blasts bullets at his dashboard when the Mets don’t do what he hoped they would.

Now the story is well known around the business. Keitel receives the screenplay. Keitel throws it away without finishing it, thinking it to be filth. But it remains with him, and some time later he picks it up, finishes it, and commits to the film thereby guaranteeing Abel will get to make it.

That very well could be the case. The film is a trip, and it can be a bit bludgeoning, what with a cast of characters that includes Jesus. But it is a powerful tale of redemption. It is about a man who hasn’t taken the higher road, because he hasn’t had to. In a scorching scene, Keitel pleads with Jesus that he tries to be good, but it is just so damn hard. And it is true. One can almost see a younger version of LT slowly giving up the fight because, fuck it, he doesn’t need to. And everybody else is doing it.

A nun is raped in the church and she forgives the boys that did it. She refuses to tell LT, or any officer which sends LT on a spiral towards either insanity or salvation, and nobody seems to know which.

But, as I say, the film is mostly about LT. It is a character study of a man who has jumped off the diving board long ago, and is finally getting close to hitting the waters. And then he has a thought. Did he make a mistake? Or does he only have that thought because it is too late to change his mind anyway? And drugs aren’t cheap.

This film was selected because Werner Herzog has, oddly enough remade it into what, by most accounts is a good movie. I shall see it soon. I am a great admirer of this hard watch of a movie. But I am also a Herzog fan. Maybe there are a lot of bad lieutenants out there. And here are two.

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