Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bad Lieutenant (1992, Abel Ferrara)

Bad Lieutenant is a film I knew nothing about when my friend let me borrow it about a year ago. I hadn't even heard of the name Abel Ferrara so I really had no idea what to expect. Upon first viewing I really didn't know what to make of it. It was just so sleazy and wrong that I kind of pushed it away. I knew I wanted to see it again but I put it on the back burner for another time. I recently had the urge to watch some of Ferrara's films again so it was a perfect time to revisit Bad Lieutenant.

In Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel plays a police lieutenant (I don't think it ever says his character's name) who has some problems. Well, actually he has a lot of problems, namely gambling, drug, alcohol and sex addictions. He takes bribes from crooks, steals drugs from crime scenes and does pretty much every thing he shouldn't do. After a nun is raped, the Lt. tries his hardest to get the nun to reveal who the rapists are, mainly because he needs the reward money for gambling debts.

Bad Lieutenant is such a generic, silly title but it actually fits the film perfectly. Keitel is such a scumbag in this movie and his performance is one of his best, easily on par with his early work with Scorsese (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Who's That Knocking at My Door and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). Ferrara excels in creating his usual dirty city setting and the supporting cast are all perfect, including co-screenwriter/Ms. 45 star Zoe Lund (formerly Zoe Tamerlis) as Zoe, the lieutenant's heroin partner. There are some really tough scenes in this film and it stretches the envelope so much that you are pretty much left paralyzed until the film is over. Some of the scenes are so over the top that you can't help but laugh, though it's not because the film is unintentionally funny. I think I was laughing mainly because the subject matter was just so extreme that you either laugh or cry. I don't really know how to explain it, I would just recommend seeing it and judging for yourself. In my opinion though, it is a masterpiece in urban drama.


If you think you can stomach another Abel Ferrara movie after seeing this, why not try watching movies online such as King of New York or Body Snatchers.


  1. StarMummy: I have watched this film a few times over the years, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. An actor exposing too much of himself? A story with nothing close to a "hero?" There is just something so overpoweringly raw about it that it makes me squirm every time. I keep watching it again, though, and certain scenes I can't forget, though Lord knows I've tried. -- Mykal

  2. I'd forgotten about this one...Never seen more than just clips, but it sounds like one of those movies in which NOBODY is likeable, which can be very hard to sit through...

    And, of course, Ferrara movies are so dark and grimey that you feel the need for a long shower after viewing.

    Thanks for reminding me of this one...maybe I'll give it a try...

  3. Hey,

    Thanks for this review. It's good to see a different perspective on the film. I can't say that I liked this one myself--to me it seemed to be a strange brew of being shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking and downright dull. But to each his own.