Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Director: Abel Ferrara.
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Brian McElroy, Frankie Acciarito, Peggy Gormley, Victor Argo, . USA. 1h 36m.

The 90’s were the golden revival era of disturbing films, and while this isn’t your average cop film, it is a brilliant cop drama but the main character is so massively flawed that you often forget that he’s supposed to be the good guy.

Harvey Keitel plays the ultimate asshole of a cop LT, who shambles about the city, taking drugs, pulling over and intimidating young girls, he’s a mess, stealing drugs from crime scenes and on the odd occasion babysitting his kids and racking up huge gambling debts.

When a controversial case comes up, a young catholic nun is raped by a group of teenage boys and LT is put on the case, the first things he doe is perve on the nun in the examination room, but eventually he gets his shit together (ish) and attempts to solve the case while racking up bigger debts and losing his schit when faced with a woman who has been attacked who doesn’t want revenge because WWJD, and the annoyance of being denied his revenge-violence only spurs him on another drug binge.

It’s easy to imagine this film in the graphic novel universe where crime is bad and the guys who catch criminals are worse, LT would fit into Sin City (2005) any day. A lot of the characters around him are totally baffled by his actions, but it’s not easy to understand a junkie, and some seem to be laying in wait of his apparent demise.

Abel Ferrara is not shy when it comes to filmmaking, from his humble Driller Killer (1979) days he’s produced some interesting and curious work. At times this feels like a documentary, unscripted mundane scenes litter the film, either the long scenes of LT getting his drug fix from the gorgeous Zoe Lund (RIP), or him listening to “the game” on the radio, which resulted in him shooting the radio and having to flee the scene. At times it could easily been a street cop drama, until LT needs another fix, then he spends his time floundering around with prostitutes and crying, oh boy does he do a lot of crying. I think Keitel really relished this role and Ferrera seemed to make sure that he was on screen for most of the movie, as his desperate character seems to jump into the abyss realising all too soon that he’s gone too far but carrying on anyway.

It’s a gorgeous pulp film dedicated to addiction, sin, lies and gambling, all compounded into one man, a messiah of of the shortcoming of modern man, and his strange redemption.



Rating 8/10

RBad Lieutenant – Remake (2009) , Bad Timing (1980)
L – Bad Cops, Remakes I just can’t ever be arsed with
5s – Harvey Keitel, Abel Ferrara
Vs – Bad Lieutenant Vs Bad Lieutenant
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3 thoughts on “Bad Lieutenant (1992)”

  1. Yes, it’s a great example of raw, 90’s era filmmaking – I interviewed Keitel at the Cannes Film Festival that year for both this film and “Reservoir Dogs.” I also posted a story about Zoe Lund, what a shame…great writeup!

      1. I had no idea of her involvement in “Bad Lieutenant” until after I saw the document material on the “Ms. 45” blu-ray

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