Bad Lieutenant (Ferrara, 1992)

I’m a great admirer of Abel Ferrara, mainly because his films often feel overtly dirty and sleazy without descending into a safety net of comedy or camp. His Ms. 45, The King of New York, and ‘R Xmas are all good films and solid exercises in genre-bending aesthetics. But Bad Lieutenant might be his most potent incarnation of religious guilt, hard-core sex, and bloody iconography. In many scenes Ferrara goes for shock value but never at the expense of story. Everything Harvey Kietel’s dirty cop does represents him as the scum-bag sociopath he truly seems to be. However, unlike similar anti-heroes fleshed out by Scorsese, Coppola, and DePalma, Ferrara’s characterization is unapologetic about these vices, a refreshing if not exhausting journey into a FUBARed individual. The arrogance and greed of Kietel’s character dissolves as the film progresses, leaving a scared, jumbled little boy. While I’ve never been able to feel much sympathy for any Harvey Kietel character, Ferrara’s hardcore portrait of mental and physical decline never asks us to.

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