I realize “Bad Lieutenant” is supposed to be a sort of gritty masterpiece from NYC’s grimy years, an acting tour-de-force by Harvey Keitel, and a deep, significant examination of the power of Catholic guilt, drugs, corruption and bad police work. I probably thought so too, back when I saw it years ago.
Now? When Keitel starts his wordless keening and howling, I’m eye-rolling. What must have seemed an authentic expression of inner sorrow and misery back then, now it’s verging on ludicrous. It’s just too darn much! Tone it down a little, Harvey, you’re scaring the horses.
There’s a line in “Trainspotting” where Rent Boy explains just why he does heroin. “Take your best orgasm ever, multiply that feeling by twenty and you’re still miles off the pace!” Sure, things go downhill rapidly for Renton and his mates, but at least there’s a reference to the lads enjoying their drugs. In “Bad Lieutenant”, Keitel never hints at getting the slightest pleasure from his heroin, cocaine, weed, whiskey or hookers. He’s miserable before, miserable during and miserable after. He gets no kick from champagne, either. Strictly maintenance.
Because of that great load of spiritual guilt and bookie debt he’s carrying, I expect. Taking the spiritual first, in Matthew, the Disciples are told that the “Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” In “Bad Lieutenant”, Keitel is attempting the opposite. His spirit may have cratered, but that pasty unshaven flesh must be strong as several oxen to survive the wide range of contraindicated substances he’s putting up his nose, down his throat and into his veins. I wouldn’t expect he could make it to the end of the movie with a pulse.
Then again, there are examples like Keith Richards and Iggy Pop and Steven Tyler, guys who give the lie to the whole “flesh is weak” thing. The flesh must be darned resilient for those guys to be breathing, so we can buy Keitel staggering through his days as a homicide detective. Sort of.
You’d think that the guys in the squad room would notice the lurching and glassy eyes, if not the smell. It was a simpler time in NYC, but still. And what kind of bookie keeps letting this obvious degenerate gambler keep rolling over his debts? One with a lack of sound business instincts. You have to know your customers better than that. And have some contingency for collecting bad debts.
The unrelenting misery and doom-laden pronouncements, interleaved with the Dodgers and Mets, make for an unpleasant grind on re-viewing. Kind of sorry I disabused myself of the notion that this was an Important Cinema. The women in the movie exist only to be abused for the sake of Keitel’s increased self-loathing or to provide more drugs to increase Keitel’s self-loathing. Think you got enough self-loathing already there, Harvey.
I enjoyed Nicolas Cage hallucinating a mile a minute, talking to iguanas and laughing manically in his, shall we say, idiosyncratic interpretation, the oddly titled “Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans”. A typically strange Cage outing, but interesting in a way that Keitel’s movie no longer is. And funnier.
Also. This stream is pretty much the basic cable version. That is, sliced and diced to eliminate anything offensive beyond a few shouted imprecations. Seriously, there must be ten minutes missing of Harvey hanging out full frontal. Not that I miss those minutes that much, we’ve all seen more than enough of his various appendages over the years, and eliminating some gratuitous violence isn’t necessarily a terrible edit.
But, either the movie is director Abel Ferrara’s vision, or it isn’t. This sanitized re-edit could run on basic cable with about ten seconds of digital blurs added. If Amazon is going to stream this mutilated version, it should come with a disclaimer that this is the anti-director’s cut.
Also, the image quality is strictly meh. I guess if you want to see “Bad Lieutenant” the way Ferrara wanted you to, you’ll have to check out the Blu Ray.