The other day, I was conveying to my better half that she should do an open review about a movie called Secretary that was fairly new to Blu-Ray. She ultimately decided against it because she felt she could not do a PG review for such a risqué movie. It is only fitting that a week or so later, I find Bad Lieutenant, a NC-17 movie in my own review pile and I was faced with the same task. Take an absolutely gritty, dark and disturbing movie and do what you can to make it a wholesome review. I always did like challenges.
Harvey Keitel plays a very bad cop. In fact, he’s actually a Lieutenant of a local New York precinct (btw, he’s never actually given a name, so we’ll call him Lt.). He’s had the crazy life that echoed the overzealous nature of the 80’s. He has a family complete with a wife and children but the wholesome image stops right there. In his time out on the streets, he boozes, gambles, steals evidence, womanizes and does drugs including a whole lot of cocaine.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the New York Mets on the ropes by winning the first three games. Darryl Strawberry is on fire with his impressive moonshots and the Mets look like they will have to wait until next year unless they can win four games straight. Interestingly enough, Lt. isn’t betting on his home team, he’s throwing thousands of dollars to his bookie on the Dodgers while encouraging his fellow cops to do the exact opposite.
As all of this is going on and the Lt. is living through the excesses of his life, a horrific crime occurs. A nun (played by Frankie Thorn) gets brutally raped in church by two unknown men. At home, Lt. wakes up from a drug induced sleep to see one of his kids watching a cartoon. He turns on the baseball game to see Strawberry hit one of his famous moonshots. The cop is excited until he learns that the homer wasn’t going to matter as the Mets win the fourth game, 11-3.
The Lt. goes to the crime scene to investigate the heinous act. The nun will not speak of the men as she believes they are good boys and that she forgives them. The Lt. uses this crime scene again as an enticement to the other men to bet on the Mets while he doubles down on the Dodgers. Perhaps this is his chance at redemption if only he can confront his demons. With a nun that won’t talk and the Mets gaining momentum, can the Lt. stop his spiraling life and gambling losses before it is too late?
I had heard always a lot about Bad Lieutenant and how dark and disturbing the film was. But in my short career here at Upcomingdiscs, I had seen a lot of dark and disturbing films. Heck, if I can review Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse, I can review anything that comes my way. Nothing could have prepared me for what I watched in ninety six minutes. If you are looking for a movie with redemption, sadly you won’t find a shred of it here.
On top of that, the movie is explicit. There are depictions of realistic drug use, rape, and more full frontal nudity than you can shake some blow at (I never want to see that much skin of Harvey Keitel ever again). The movie feels so real, so raw and depressing that you wonder if the imagery in front of you isn’t the back of some beaten down apartment complex where a couple of junkies are sharing a moment. But then you realize that Keitel put on the performance of his life.
Harvey put everything he had into this role. He was going through some difficult times and reportedly a lot of his aggression and angst made it into the Lieutenant character. The movie was directed by Abel Ferrara who works more with a framework rather than a script. This allowed the lead star to tap into places of his psyche that most other actors would not have. It’s a shame that his performance doesn’t play into a better story.
The back of the movie case plays up this shocking case and how Keitel is trying to find the truth behind these events. The only thing the Lt. is trying to find is the bottom of a crack pipe. While religion does play a role in the movie, the actual crime could have been anything based on religion and isn’t really crucial to the morality play that Keitel puts on. The ending while expected doesn’t have a lot of umph either. It’s like somebody threw up a time flag and then the crew tied it up into a fairly neat package for all of the viewers in the theater.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. By the way, a lot of recent blu-rays brought out by Lionsgate have trimmed to the 1.85:1 OAR to 1.78. Great, the new fullscreen. So along with losing 7% of the picture, it looks like half of the picture was shot in a dark room with a flashlight. The darks are terrible and shadows are a mess. In light, it does do a little better and you can see some detail but it is not going to wow you by any means. According to the commentary, it also leads me to believe that this was possibly DNR’ed to death which is very unfortunate.
For the audio portion, we get a 2.0 English DTS-HD track. The audio fares a little better as the action does lead to some stereo effects and left to right movement. The dialog does stay in the center and is very clear. New York accents are no issues here and the track is nicely placed for its age. There isn’t much music to speak of but it goes along with the film which is important. Subtitles are included for English SDH and Spanish.
- Audio Commentary: This has director Abel Ferrara and director of photography, Ken Kelsch speaking on the film. There are a few dead spots here but for the most part they talk through the entire film. There is a ton of insight here and they even speak about the video transfer. They weren’t too happy about it either. The two crew members really cement the fact that sometimes they just let the camera roll until they ran out of film.
- It All Happens Here 34:07: This is divided into three parts, pre-production, production and post production. They based the movie on a song (but Abel can’t recall which one) and how they wanted to explore every vice they could think of. The case that the Lt. Works on is actually fragments of a true story that absolutely outraged New Yorkers. The plan for the movie from the start was NC-17 and it was shot in twenty days.
- They go on further to talk in great detail about Zoe Lund who died at the age of thirty-seven due to prolonged cocaine use (and probably heroin as well). They even seem to imply that Zoe in her minor (but important) part wasn’t really acting if you catch my drift. The crew also talks about Harvey Keitel in length and how raw they were catching him on film. A lot was improv, which is amazing and scary at the same time. Reportedly, Christopher Walken was offered the role first but turned it down due he just didn’t think he could give the character the proper respect it deserved. Think about it though, Walken as the Lt.? Mind-blowing.
- Theatrical Trailer 3:20: A very long trailer, also makes the movie seem to have a lot more action than it actually did.
One of the things I forgot to mention in my evaluation was the wonderful baseball metaphor in the movie. The Lt. could be seen as the L.A. Dodgers who were so close to winning the League Championship Series and going to the World Series. More importantly, they were obviously drawing comparisons to Darryl Strawberry who had recently signed with the Dodgers (old team was the Mets) and never quite lived up to his potential due to drug use and injuries. Thankfully, Darryl did eventually turn his life around and was part of the New York Yankees in three historical World Series runs from 1996-1999.
The Lieutenant never gets to turn his life around and his life of excess became his downfall. While Keitel gave the performance of his life, the film’s story never was strong enough to come along for the ride. The blu-ray package has mediocre video and audio but proves that less is more with two fantastic extras that really go inside the movie. As mentioned in the extras, Bad Lieutenant is a piece of art but in my opinion, it is one that is drawn on the thinnest of canvas. I recommend this film for Harvey’s performance but most people once they get past the explicit nature and disturbing moments won’t find too much of a story.