“Bad Lieutenant” (1992) dir. Abel Ferrara

“Bad Lieutenant” was one of the best films of the 1990s and a film that continues to fascinate and provide food for thought as the years go on. The plot seems simple (and deceptively Conservative): a corrupt cop (masterfully played by Harvey Keitel) with various addictions: gambling, drugs, sex … reaches a major crisis point, finds Jesus, and understands the true nature of Christianity. The problem (at least of for Christian Conservatives) is that Keitel’s journey is an NC-17 rated charter to Hell, with graphic sex, nudity, violence, and drug use. Keitel’s character’s hallucination / breakdown in front of Jesus, as well as his subsequent giving some crack-smoking rapists $30,000 and a bus ticket out of town, really made me understand the concept of Grace. This will likely offend most people who call themselves Christians, but it also makes me understand what Christianity is about in a way that never made sense to me before. Admittedly, it’s not enough to make me run back to church, but it’s still pretty powerful … and a great testament to Ferrara as a filmmaker and potential (albeit wacked-out) theologian.

The attached red-band trailer is admittedly awful, but it’s at least consistent with most art-house trailers. The film is way better than this trailer would make you believe.

I remember seeing this film on a sleety, gray, miserable day in February 1993 in downtown Washington DC.  The theater I went to see it in (the Janus 3) was pretty run-down.  It wasn’t what I would call a grindhouse, but definitely a venue that had seen better days.  In retrospect, it was the perfect setting to see this f–ked up masterpiece.

This was one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films of the 1990s.

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