Bad Lieutenant (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
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Harvey Keitel is a nameless New York cop, hopelessly addicted to drugs, gambling, and sex. As he makes his way to various crime scenes, he is concerned only with taking bets from his fellow cops on the outcome of the ongoing National League playoffs. As his bad decisions drive him deeper into debt, his life becomes a surreal hell, with a constant intake of crack, coke, heroin and booze eroding what remains of his sanity. An investigation into the rape of a nun leads to his spiritual breakdown at the church crime scene, where he sees Jesus and the road to his salvation. This gutsy, highly original tale is one of Ferrara’s most perfectly realized films and a pinnacle in the career of Keitel, whose performance transcends the screen in its sheer bravery.
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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. ****
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.
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