Bad Lieutenant: Special Edition

Movies
5 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

The title of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 masterpiece has always seemed a little misleading: If Harvey Keitel’s nameless detective is indeed a not-so-great cop, you assume he accepts a bribe or two. After you’ve endured this tour of hell on earth, however, the adjective feels like a vast understatement. Here’s a member of New York’s Finest who smokes copious amounts of crack on the job, steals kilos of evidence, shakes down local thugs for gambling money and, in the film’s most notorious sequence, sexually humiliates two Jersey girls while he self-abuses outside their car. He tells a vision of Jesus Christ to go fuck himself. This gentleman is not just a bad lieutenant; he is, beyond a doubt, the single worst law-enforcement officer to ever grace the screen.

But anyone who can walk away from this intense redemption parable without thinking that Ferrara is some kind of scuzzball Bresson or that Keitel is the most fearless actor around (where do those guttural howls come from?) simply hasn’t been paying attention. A special-edition DVD with bells and whistles has been long overdue, and these extras don’t disappoint. Ferrara’s motormouthed commentaries always impress—his unhinged rants on the original out-of-print Driller Killer disc are a strong best-ever contender—and though this conversation with cinematographer Ken Kelsch is more restrained than usual, the director sheds much light on his film’s dispatch from the abyss. It All Happens Here, a three-part doc detailing the movie’s journey from conception to critical favorite, fills in the blanks; Keitel is conspicuous by his absence, but the testimonies chart how a trashy crime flick morphed into a transcendental search for salvation.—David Fear

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