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Bad Lieutenant
1992 - NC-17 - 98 Mins.
Director: Abel Ferrara
Producer: Mary Kane
Written By: Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Brian McElroy, Peggy Gormley, Victor Argo, Robin Burrows
Review by: John Ulmer
Harvey Keitel is the titular “Bad Lieutenant,” a nameless character whose moral self-degradation becomes the focus of Abel Ferrara’s controversial 1992 motion picture. In one scene the Bad Lieutenant pulls over two teenaged girls who have “borrowed” their father’s car. He promises not to arrest them if they do something for him. What follows is heavily responsible for the MPAA’s NC-17 rating.

“Bad Lieutenant” follows this man through his own personal hell – drug addiction, alcoholism, self-loathing and sexual perversity – in an effort to examine the inner workings of a corrupt cop on the brink of death.

Keitel gives a good performance, his eyes lost somewhere in between hope and despair, but is too much of an exhibitionist – his seemingly mandatory full-frontal nudity is unnecessary and showy. Keitel’s career has always been a successful one, but also unreliable and uneven. His performance here is believable, but despicable; that’s the point, of course, but to some degree even the most unlikable cinema icons (such as Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”) had a certain level of humanity in them that we could relate to. I didn’t have any compassion for Keitel’s character, and as a result his performance failed to captivate me in any way.

The film is competently directed. I wasn’t deeply offended by any of the content found within. I did, however, get the feeling that those involved with “Bad Lieutenant” were primarily interested in being controversial, and not telling an honest story. This film takes too long to do nothing of any real importance.

It sets up Keitel as the Bad Lieutenant. They are free to do whatever they like with this. So, he’s on drugs, swears at his kids, is a pervert and so on and so forth. However, once we understand that he’s sick, there’s no need to beat a dead horse. “Bad Lieutenant” stays in one place too long, repeating itself, rather than proceeding. Most of the film is an examination of his moral depravity – there should be a flip-end to the coin; the redemption period is a throwaway effort kept tucked away at the back of the picture and by the time it rolls around, we don’t care anymore.

The preaching is too heavy-handed and as a result the film lacks the conviction it should possess. It is as if the cast and crew are too insecure with their project to let it stand on its own, so Ferrara inserts unsubtle religious iconography into his picture as some sort of last-ditch effort to provide a Christ-like redemption for the Bad Lieutenant to pass through. Religious symbolism in cinema often works as a metaphor for personal forgiveness and self-retribution. In “Bad Lieutenant,” the concept is taken far too literally – even a couch in one scene of the movie bears a religious symbol on it – and as a result comes across as being too thick, too overburdened, and too distasteful to find any sort of value in.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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