Proving that he may be the most fearless actor of his or any other generation, Harvey Keitel gives an amazing, no-holds-barred performance in director Abel Ferrara's uncompromising 1992 film about a New York cop on the edg... more »e of self-annihilation. The film's title is meant to be taken literally: Keitel's character has no redeeming values whatsoever, save for his desperate need for redemption. Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide is correct in calling this an "over-the-top Catholic guilt movie," but it's been made with such conviction that Ferrara and Keitel transcend the sheer unpleasantness of the material to give it a kind of tragic divinity. Here's a character so vile and corrupted that he consumes or re-sells the drugs he confiscates, but when he's assigned to investigate the brutal rape of a nun who refuses to press charges, he feels that this is his opportunity to redeem his rotten soul. Deservedly rated NC-17 due to its rough content and a frontal nude scene that even Keitel's most loyal fans could do without, this film tends to divide viewers into love-it-or-hate-it categories, but few could deny its raw power and the deeply anguished humanity that Keitel brings to his role. Whatever your reaction may be, few would deny this is an unforgettable film. --Jeff Shannon« less
"I had heard, by word of mouth over the years, that "Bad Lieutenant" was truly extraordinary, but nothing could really prepare me for the sheer visceral impact of the film, or the electrifying, career best performance, given by Harvey Keitel, in fact I watched the film 3 days ago, and have deliberately waited `til now to write this review. After much thought I have to say that "Bad Lieutenant" really is a monstrous train-wreck of a movie, but what keeps you watching, utterly mesmerized, unable to look away for an instant, is Keitel's performance as the titular character. He's never given a name in the film, or even in the credits, he's just the "Lieutenant," and "Bad?" "Bad" doesn't even begin to describe this guy, as the front of the DVD case puts it, "Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop." After surviving on the mean streets of New York for 20 years, he has seen, and pretty well done, it all; the "Lieutenant" is a man who exists in a nihilistic Hell of his own making, and we watch as he roars headlong towards his own destruction, along the way, plumbing the very depths of abject human depravity. A lapsed Catholic, he is still wracked by guilt for the truly awful deeds he commits, whether it's doing and/or selling drugs, booze, sex, gambling, thieving, killing, the "Lieutenant" is a soul in torment. Unable to find a way out, he is sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of yet MORE drugs, MORE booze, MORE bets he can't cover, and more, meaningless, cold, emotionless, and depraved, sexual acts.Yet somewhere deep inside this blasted shell of a man, there still exists a spark of humanity, so lost in the wretched, savage squalor of his life, that even HE doesn't know it's there. Then one day he becomes involved in the investigation of a crime that shocks even him... the brutal rape of a Catholic nun. Initially coldly dismissive of what the young woman had been through, he listens in on her conversations with her superiors and is shocked to his core to discover that even though her bruises are still fresh, she has already forgiven her attackers. She knows their names but won't pass them on to the police. The "Lieutenant" can barely comprehend how can such a thing can be, how can she forgive such a terrible act... such a terrible sin? If she can forgive so much, then maybe, just maybe, he himself can find some kind of redemption, maybe someone - God? - can forgive him HIS sins. After his confrontation with the nun, howling out his characters pain, and anger, and hurt, and fear, Harvey Keitel gives the most searingly honest, desperate, and emotionally raw performance of his career.Bleak, brutal, depraved, and honest, are some of the words that I would use to describe this film, which is NOT easy to watch, especially this NC-17 version, but it's a film that SHOULD be watched by anyone who is serious about Cinema as an art form. Between them, Ferrera and Keitel have produced an extraordinary cinematic experience, unbending and uncompromising in its exploration of the human condition, powerful and unforgiving, it forces you to actually THINK about the subject matter, and to face the rotten darkness in the heart of this particular human soul.I would like to end this review with a bit of trivia concerning Keitel's performance. Regardless of whether you love this film or hate it - like "2001," this film seems to generate extreme reactions - no one can argue about the power, and sheer gut-wrenching truthfulness, of Keitel's performance. Depending on exactly when the film was released, Keitel would have been eligible for a shot at either the '92 or '93 Oscar for Best Actor. So who won? Well, I looked it up, and Keitel "lost" to, either, Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman" in '92, or, God help us, Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia" in '93! Next time I find myself getting even mildly curious about who's taking home one of the gold statuettes, this little bit of trivia will kind-of put the whole tawdry circus into perspective!"
To the depths of hell and clawing his way out
Judy K. Polhemus | LA | 05/13/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whisper his name. Harvey Keitel. Shout his name. Harvey Keitel. No matter. He did not win any awards for this role, this damnation, this damned man, a police detective in "Bad Lieutenant."
There's a song, "Bad to the Bone," which might sum up the detective, or it might not be strong enough because Harvey Keitel's character is bad to the bone and then some. He lives as a family man, but on the edge, clearly not part of this family, a stuffed man, stuffed with aloneness, stuffed with horrors of his own making. Director Abel Ferrara's filming technique extends this isolation by making the movie look like a docudrama. Filmed on location. No takes. Shoot as is. Keep the cameras rolling.
He starts the day clean as he drops his two sons off at school. During the course of the day he investigates two vicious murders, a store theft he turns to his advantage by keeping the stolen money, does drugs with a stoned out, emaciated redhead, and engages in a menage-a-trois with two women. During this scene he evens out the equal rights debate for male actors to engage in full frontal nudity. Yes, he does. Then he gets his life-defining case--the vicious rape of a young nun by two local petty drug dealers.
Harvey Keitel has spent the day engaged in personal encounters with, well, let's name it, sins of the flesh, of the soul. He sees the nun several times over the next few days, trying to understand what happened to her. When she tells him with her own mouth that she forgives the two men and will not identify them or name them, but only forgives them, he has a major crisis of conscience.
One reviewer calls this film a major religious movie, and, indeed, it becomes so. These are scenes to cherish for their truthful beauty, for their naked exposure of a soul in dire peril. Harvey Keitel produces a keening for his soul the like which will make your hair stand on end. The following scenes need to be seen and not read.
What transpires resonants with the viewer as the viewer comes to understand the moment's eternal meaning. No more will I say.
Note: This movie is rated NC-17 and is not for the squeamish. "
The pinnacle of Ferrara's career.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 08/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara, 1992)
Abel Ferrara has had a long and checkered career in the film industry, never quite achieving commercial success, turning out films that are alternately brilliant and boring. And in the middle of all of it, there is Bad Lieutenant, which to date stands alone as Ferrara's magnum opus, an incredibly powerful piece of work
The unnamed lieutenant (called "LT" in the credits and played to the hilt by Harvey Keitel) starts off the movie looking like any other guy, but it only takes a few minutes of us looking in on his day to realize this isn't your ordinary cop. In fact, he's a downright sleaze. Soon enough, he catches the case that will end up becoming the focus of his career-- the rape of a young nun (Stigmata's Frankie Thorn). At first, he tries to treat it like every other case, but as his life begins to spiral out of control, he becomes more and more obsessed with the deeper symbolism of the case itself, how justice and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin.
The case is there, but it's only as important to the film as the mythical Mets-Dodgers NL playoff constantly on radios and televisions (obviously meant to mirror the '88 NL playoffs, but the movie's playoffs differ in certain important ways to parallel better with the plot structure)-- both are only pieces of the puzzle that is the lieutenant. The movie is Harvey Keitel's, pure and simple, a character study of a man whose bad habits have finally caught up with him And Keitel plays it wonderfully. He is the reason to watch this movie. And even if he is the only reason (let's be frank, this is not a film for the squeamish, as many reviews and viewer comments have made clear; it's NC-17 for a reason), he's still worth it. The finest performance of Harvey Keitel's career, and that's saying something. ****"
Powerful film about sin, forgiveness and redemption
Judy K. Polhemus | 03/21/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For everyone who thinks that this film is only about depravity, think again. This is a powerful film about sin, forgiveness, and redemption. It may be one of the most religious films of our times or about our times. The acting by Harvey Keitel is just superb.Most of the movie explores every type of addiction that can be thought of...drugs, alcohol, deviant sex, gambling...all spiraling downward into an abyss of emptiness. Finally, when the Bad Lieutenant can see nothing but the dregs of his miserable existence, he is confronted by something that truly shakes him: not a bad dose of cocaine or heroin, not big losses on gambling, but the unbelievable example of a fellow human being who demonstrates true, unconditional love. His anguished cry for forgiveness is the most moving part of the film and leads to his ultimate redemption. The Bad Lieutenant is the good thief on the cross of our times."
A nearly perfect cinematic portrait
Judy K. Polhemus | 01/26/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When is a movie critic going to realize that the Lieutenant isn't trying to redeem his soul? He just wants to catch the rapists and get the reward money to dig himself out of a hole with his bookie! The redemption comes later, and he doesn't do it for himself...Even though it's against amazon.com's policy against spoilers, the above has to be said. "Bad Lieutenant" is not as simple as it's made out to be. It's an upsetting, complicated portrait of a cold, desperate man, and in years to come I hope this film will be seen as the "Detour" of the 1990's, opposing the simplistic optimism of mainstream movies. "Bad Lieutenant" is, for example, more optimistic and soulful to me than "Schindler's List," because Ferrara trusts the audience to be a witness to the worst a man can be, and if you sympathize with Keitel's Lieutenant, it will be of your own free will, not because the soundtrack swells at a heartwrenching moment or because a bad man sees the error of his ways: he does one good deed because he's run out of choices. Unable to redeem himself, he, just for once, helps a couple of guys who in his eyes don't even deserve to live.I can't praise this film enough; it's as if Kurosowa had directed a film with uncharacteristic naturalism. Ferrara, Lund, and Keitel, their talents free from the tyranny of good taste, have produced a serious movie about lazy evil, fumbling salvation, and the painful misery of a life lived wrong. This is a harrowing and beautiful film, and deserves to be seen."