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Bad Lieutenant

Bad Lieutenant

Director:Abel Ferrara
Cast:Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderone, Leonard Thomas, Robin Burrows, Frankie Thorn
Release Date:1992

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/12/2009

THE MOVIE Abel Ferrara's guerilla 1992 study of man's seismic spiritual rebirth has been on DVD for years now, but Lionsgate is no doubt capitalizing on the imminent arrival of the Werner Herzog directed remake/update, which hits festivals in September. Herzog's movie transplants the story to New Orleans and stars Nicolas Cage but--no offense to the parties involved--it's extremely difficult to imagine it having anywhere near the onscreen intensity that Ferrara's original trucks. That leveling force comes almost entirely from Harvey Keitel, whose embodying of the titular detective--he's never named--became the sort of performance that marks a career. Before Bad Lieutenant, Keitel was a New York character actor and Martin Scorsese regular who could make Judas sound like a Brooklyn Jew in The Last Temptation of Christ; after Bad Lieutenant, he became the only 50-something actor capable of holding his own in an outlandishly entangled psychosexual power struggle with Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke!

And judging from Ferrara's commentary and the making of featurette included on this DVD, Keitel brought a wealth of this character to life entirely on his own. The movie was shot largely improvised and on the fly in New York, and this intimacy is more than matched by Keitel. His NYPD detective places bets for cop pals on the ongoing Mets-Dodgers series that runs in the movie's background, hoovers lines of cocaine after dropping his two sons off at school (after instructing them on how to throw their Aunt Wendy out of the bathroom if she's hogging it), carouses sadly through a fog of drugs and liquor with two women, and lets two joyriding young New Jersey women off with a warning after one bares her ass while the other shows him how she sucks a cock. Yet this volatile, corrupt, and borderline pathological law-enforcement officer undergoes a profound transformation during the course of his latest investigation: the violent rape of a nun. And over the course of the movie, Keitel invests this conflicted cop with highly animated and violent self-doubt, which turns this extremely profane movie into an arresting exploration of Catholic faith.

THE DISC Ferrara's commentary (he's joined by the movie's cinematographer Ken Kelsch) and the making of featurette--which primarily includes interviews with the small production team/crew--describes a movie made on the cheap and sly, and offers a rather frank description of all the drug taking going on onscreen (yes: that is the late, great Zoë Lund, the co-screenwriter of this movie, really shooting up). That's all this "special edition" of the Bad Lieutenant DVD offers, but it's enough to remind you that Dogme 95 et. al break very little ground over one of New York's veteran filmmakers.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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