Possibly Ferrara’s most critically acclaimed film, but one which retains the violence, bleakness and chaos of all his previous releases. Bad Lieutenant stars Harvey Keital in the title role, a cop who continually bends the rules and abuses his authority to satisfy his own urges. Nothing makes him happy, his family are rarely mentioned, his work is only a tool for his behaviour, and the drugs he resorts to only make him worse. Baseball and betting seem to be his only interest, but even that is only for financial gain. Growing up as a Catholic, the film follows his attempt at redemption and the conclusion is suitably ambiguous in that respect.
The Liuetenant’s most recent case involves the rape and beating of a nun. He shows little respect or care for the victim to the disgust of his workmates, even though he admits to also being a Catholic. The nun says she forgives those who did it to her, and Keitel cannot understand this. She says she knows those who did it, but will not tell who they are. This sends Keitel’s character into a spiral of anger over whether he can be forgiven for all the terrible things he continues to do, or whether he could forgive someone else. While all this is happening, he is gambling on a baseball series, but losing more money. The bad guys want their money and they will gladly kill those who do not pay back. We follow him around the city, meeting unsavoury characters, some of whom he exploits in various ways. Eventually after getting stoned he hallucinates about Jesus and begs for forgiveness. He may or may not get this from God, but the bad guys will not be so forgiving.
Above all this is Keitel’s show. On the screen for most of the film we see his anger, corruption, the deeds he does, his changing emotions, and we eventually feel some kind of pity for him, wondering if we could forgive him, based purely on his performance. The movie is of course difficult to watch, and there are few ‘good’ characters with whom we can relate to. He lets criminals get away with theft, he buys drugs off those he should be putting away, he stops teenage girls just so he can masturbate in front of them. Ferrera adds to the bleakness by mostly filming at night, and when it is light the Lieutenant is usually coming down so we do not get any respite. In the end we do not know if he has redeemed himself, though it seems that anyone is capable of being forgiven, but we know for certain that the city will be better off without him.
The DVD only has a few poor features-trailers for this and other movies. The transfer is not too great, same goes for the sound, but for fans of the star, director, or of extreme cult cinema you probably won’t get a better edition. And it’s cheap.
Feel free to comment on the film and what you made of the violence, the relgious imagery, the acting etc.