Way before Werner Herzog came out with “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” there was only one “Bad Lieutenant” and that was Abel Ferrara’s tough minded 1992 film which is out in a special DVD edition. Harvey Keitel earned many notices for his tough performance in an unrelenting and depressing film.
Keitel’s bad cop is a gambler, a drug user, a bad cop who uses his badge for many nefarious things and a bad Catholic. His way of life is put in question when a nun is raped in a church and her attackers defile the church as well. Keitel doesn’t change his ways but questions and all the meanwhile he descends further and further into his personal destruction. He’s a victimizer. He pulls over two underage girls who are driving without proper identification and sexually degrades and harasses them. He’s a user. He shoots up and visits prostitutes. When he’s not abusing himself and others, he becomes a victim too. He’s in debt because of his gambling to the mob. He thinks he’s blessed and that things will turn around. Can he ultimately save himself from himself? Does he find his salvation?
The film asks many questions about faith and forgiveness but doesn’t really delve too deeply. There are some intriguing moments which attempt to deal with a deep religious conviction and faith but it doesn’t completely pull it off. Ultimately, Ferrara’s film doesn’t deserve it’s reputation. It has a reputation of a film that’s uncompromising and that deals with the inner struggles of a bad cop. Instead it’s a seamy, seedy film that tries to be so ugly that it comes off as desperate. It’s a film that’s more ambitious than it is successful. Keitel does a good job but the script doesn’t serve him well. “Bad Lieutenant” should have been a more honest dealing with the flaws in humanity and the possibility of redemption.
If you do happen to pick up the latest special edition, do watch the documentary that is included entitled “It Happens Here”. It’s a very interesting behind the scenes look at the film. The documentary is much better and far more interesting than the film itself.
If you are interested in “Bad Lieutenant” still, please be aware that it was one of the first films that received the dreaded, adults only NC-17 rating.
Bottom Line: Abel Ferrara’s original “Bad Lieutenant” does not live up to the hype that surrounds it. Herzog’s remake surpasses it in every way. While Ferrara’s film is interesting, it’s never involving nor intriguing like Herzog’s re-imagining. Skip this, unless you are a Keitel completist but be aware, this is tough going. The viewer will ultimately have to decide if Ferrara is attempting a new realism or is trying to be sensationalistic and exploitative.
“Bad Lieutenant” is available on DVD through Netflix and is available for purchase through Amazon and Borders.