There are various forms of misery, depravity and self-destructive behaviour, but being the protagonist of Abel Ferrara's film is category for itself. One of the examples is unnamed New York police detective (played by Harvey Keitel), main character in Abel Ferrara's 1992 drama Bad Lieutenant. He nominally works as a homicide detective, but his job is nothing more than convenient method to steal drugs from the crime scene, shake down money from the suspects or abuse authority in order to satisfy his animal instincts. Apart from drinking, whoring and abusing every illegal substance in sight, Lieutenant has developed particularly nasty habit of making huge baseball bets, and the recent losing streak has created enormous gambling debt that makes his bookies quite nervous. In the meantime, Lieutenant investigates the case of brutal rape of a nun (played by Frankie Thorn). The fact that the nun forgave her assailants baffles the Lieutenant and he starts to think about changing his life.
Abel Ferrara, one of the most interesting directors in modern American cinemas, finally established that reputation with this film. He was served very well by the bigotry of MPAA, which had issued NC-17 rating and thus ensured extra publicity for Bad Lieutenant. He was even better served by the enormous talent of Harvey Keitel who gave one of his strongest performances ever in usually thankless roles of one of the sorriest excuses for the human being. The script by Ferrara and Zoe Lund (who appears in the small role of Lieutenant's drug-using mistress) took almost pornographic approach towards lows which human being can sink in urban jungles of modern America. However, this depressive but powerful vision (from which we can't take eyes off, same as with traffic accidents) is compromised in the second part of the film, where Ferrara offers some hope of redemption for our protagonist. In that segment religious imagery and subtext is overused (and that would, in most likelihood, alienate non Catholic audience from this film) and the film looks cliched, despite taking somewhat unusual approach towards protagonist's relation to religion (which was probably the real reason behind NC-17 rating). However, although flawed and overrated, Bad Lieutenant is nevertheless interesting viewing experience for those who can handle unpleasant and disturbing truths about humanity being displayed on the silver screen.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on October 20th 2001)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/12143-bad-lieutenant?language=en-US