Bad Lieutenant

Year 1992

Harvey Keitel as  Lieutenant
Frankie Thorn   as A Nun
Zoe Tamerlis as Zoe
Frank Adonis as Large
Director - Abel Ferrara  
Screenwriters - Abel Ferrara
  - ZoŽ Lund

He's bad. He's lieutenant. He's "Bad Lieutenant". Not "The Bad Lieutenant" or even "A Bad Lieutenant", just "Bad Lieutenant". The lack of either a definite or an indefinite article sort of makes it, you know, extra edgy, like ordering a Royale with cheese. Get the picture?

Touted as a tale of redemption, it's a tale of being sleazy. Abe Ferrara is a sleazy director. It's not like I don't appreciate his work. In fact King of New York was the first movie I wrote up any commentary for. Notice that it's not "The King of New York" or even "A King of New York".

How bad is the b-a-a-a-d Lieutenant? Well, Lieutenant (Harvery Keitel) has a home but keeps an apartment in town with a woman or two, steals evidence to supply his street dealer, bets heavily, drinks even more heavily, and does heavy drugs. Maybe the title should have been"Heavy Lieutenant". Not "The Heavy Lieutenant" or "A Heavy Lieutenant" or even "Full Heavy Lieutenant".

The story is linear and told from a present time perspective. Who are all the people that Lieutenant meets? Who knows? His police co-workers are easy to figure out as being his police co-workers but their professional and personal relationship with him is a blur. Then there's his wife. Does she talk? She doesn't look happy. What about his girl friends? Are they hookers? Are they permanent fixtures in his "love nest"? Who knows? What about the girl who helps him do drugs? Why does she do that? Who knows?

There is not one single character in this movie with any, and I mean any back story. Is the guy really a cop? He has a badge and people call him "Lieutenant" so he probably is. What's he in charge of? Who knows? There's one case that comes up and he says that he's in charge. But when he shows up at the hospital to interview the victim, someone's there before him and he just listens to the conversation out of sight next to an open doorway.

This is one of those movies where the scenes are supposed to convey the plot and keep the viewer entralled. I have to admit that it's a tough film to look away from. Here are a couple of scenes that are real gems, as in cubic zirconium gems.

Mr. Lieutenant is staying in-town one night at his or his girlfriend's or his girlfriends' candle engorged apartment. Two girls are doing a bit of staged or maybe real BDSM for his and perhaps their own amusement. Lieutenant decides to dance in the nude. Why? I dunno. It's sort of a swaying number as if he's in tune with nature or some laboratory chemical.

What the viewer has to watch is Harvey Keitel nude from mid-thigh up. I could've gone my whole life without seeing Harvey Keitel in full frontal nudity from mid-thigh up. But, I looked. I examined. I compared! Aiee!

After viewing Harvey in this way, and I think I can call him by his first name since I feel that we've now been properly introduced, I came to a few conclusions. First, the man works out. He's got a solid gut and defined, if skinny, arms. Second, I'm glad he wears clothes. Third, I'll bet there's not a field mouse anywhere in the world that wouldn't trade their piece for his. Harvey looks big enough to satisfy all but the most cavernous of female field mice.

(I, on the other hand, have been caught with my pants down in front of field mice and have had them chortle. I think it was chortling. It was sort of a high pitched asthmatic wheezing.)

Here's another scene. Lieutenant is apparently insatiable. He's got his wife at home, his two girlfriends at one place, and still another girl in a different place. Yet, in one scene he feels compelled to pull over two young girls in a car and have them perform lewd acts for him while he manipulates his own equipment. (I'm assuming with a pair of Q-Tips or tweezers or a female field mouse he keeps in his pocket for just this type of contingency.) It's a seedy and sleazy scene.

So what's this redemption thing that the movie is supposed to be about? Well, in general, Lieutenant does one bad thing after another until he finds himself in a corner. Then, calling on heaven for help, he gets a visitation. Then, supposedly, his next actions demonstrate how he redeemed himself. Reads well, huh?

In practice, I have issues with how it plays out. To set up the audience for the possibility that Bad Lieutenant can be redeemed, an attempt is made to show that Lieutenant has a nugget of good buried inside. This possibly Saint Lieutenant is a father and on one occassion, (in fact after the only time in the movie he spends a night at home), he actually takes his sons to school! What a good man he must really, really be to care so much about his children that he will sacrifice himself, personally, to such an extent! That single act is to let's you, the viewer, know that he's not truly, I mean deep down inside, a bad man. He's more "Conflicted Lieutenant" or maybe "Confused Lieutenant" or even "It's not my fault that I'm a jerk Lieutenant because I'm a victim Lieutenant".

Even better, during this trip he gives his sons a bit of the old "life's lessons" by demeaning the rest of the household with plenty of expletives for their benefit. Yep, he's truly a good role model and his actions for the rest of the movie are justified. He can be forgiven anything now!

With that knocked out, he's off to show his bad side. You never see the sons again in the movie, by the way. They were probably carted off to a juvenille detention facility after the pep talk.

To further show what a good man Lieutenant is, he makes losing bets with a bookie. The bookie will "blow up your house and kill your family" if you cross him. Lieutenant doesn't care that much about his family that he won't stop making making bets with the man. To further demonstrate what a family man he is, Lieutenant proceeds to get drunk in church at his daughter's First Communion. Definitely redeemable material in this guy.

About a third of the way into the movie, you get to the crime that will change his life. It's an Abe Ferrera despicable act and I won't say more.

After suffering through all this, we come to the end. The victim of the crime forgives the perpetrators and refuses to identify them to the police. The two men, filled with absolutely no remorse, are then free to keep doing what they've been doing which is pretty much what Lieutenant has been doing except that these guys aren't married.

Because Lieutenant feels a bond with these guys, he redeems himself by forgiving them.

What? What kind of hogwash is that? If we're talking the Roman Catholic Church here, and we are in the context of the movie, then only a priest as Christ's mediator can forgive sins. No stoned beyond coherence sadist or mentally deficient through trauma victim has the power to do that. But then there's a delium vision in the movie which I guess trumps all that.

The acting was top notch. The individual scenes are so depraved that they'll stay with you for a while. (Doing cocaine on pictures of your children? How low can you go?) But in the end, the resolution is not satisfying and the message of forgiveness rings false.

Too much blasphemy, a lot of nudity at the beginning (some of it begging for an eye wash station), and enough sleaze to make you want have your body sand blasted clean at the end. It's powerful in the same way that the memorial to depravity is powerful.

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