Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Bad Lieutenant" (1992) - Movie Classics

The best films to be seen before one’s life is over is marked by the best performances in most of it. When the actor seizes it, the whole movie seem to be revolving around them. But when looking outside of it, the real picture emerges out. The camera twisted, turned and hidden to project the bleached face, the editing which cuts, recuts and attaches to give the effect of the drug or happiness or unexplained experiences in the audience and the direction to put those in the hopes that the viewers will see the things they enjoyed themselves. Any filmmaker will either have the whole movie as a personal experience or even if it is against their expectation should have one or two scenes to see how the audience react. That I believe is what made “Taxi Driver” for Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. “Bad Lieutenant” is for Abel Ferrara and Harvey Keitel.

Before “Requiem for a Dream”, existed “Bad Lieutenant”. Before the acid trips of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, there was Harvey Keitel’s unnamed Lieutenant immersing his brain in the pool of drugs, sex and alcohol. In this captured period of this really bad bad lieutenant, the morality is erased and the characters we would not personally like to meet are seen in a safe distance. Tomorrow you do not want this man to pull you over because what he would ask for exchange to let you go is unpredictable. Two girls without driving license gets that humiliating, scary and embarrassing treatment from this sick man.

The film which has one thing in its mind set forth and that is the straight down decline of this man. He cannot wait to drop his kids at school because he has remained awake without the influence of cocaine for more than half an hour. He snorts and drifts down the city to the crime scene where more than the blood and tragedy is how big of a chest the victim has got. Then he begins further destruction by gambling on the wrong horse in the baseball game series. This is his life and redemption is far from it or the redemption the norm has decided would have hard time forgiving him.

Throughout the film we can see the extent of Keitel’s performance going through this character. But everything that needs to be known about the lieutenant and Keitel’s performance comes in the parking lot argument with his fellow cops. The night before a nun was abused, tortured and raped by two kids in the church. They have put a fifty-thousand dollar reward for information and our man has a problem with it. A fellow cop asks, “Are you a Catholic?” and the response is “I am Catholic” in the tone and delivery only an actor understanding the nature of his character can give it out. I am very curious if there were any side notes on the script for that line. This is Keitel at his prime and this is more than a film to him.

I have not heard about Abel Ferrera and “Bad Lieutenant”. It caught my eye in cruising through the films coming up by director Werner Herzog. Supposedly a remake though denied by Herzog, he is making “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” which has invited lot of angry reaction from Abel Ferrera. That is digressing from the matter in discussion but I cannot wait for Herzog’s film. Ferrera obviously has made a classic out of this story. It is dark, depressing and its redemption can be empathized but not approved. He is not expecting it either.

The film parallels what Scorsese did in his earlier ventures which is the guilt of Catholicism. The nature of how it is mixed in the upbringing. How much deviated and crude and merciless person one is but the fear of god and the idea of sin and redemption goes a long way. Here the person is in constant definition of sin. Either he takes for granted the glorified Jesus as the sin bearer or the addiction has imbibed more than the religion itself that his last hold on to the miniscule facade of goodness is through it.

The family of the lieutenant has given up from his bare existence in their breakfast. His only respectable and moderately kind friends are drug dealers and he is challenging himself to get to the rotten end of it. Yet we in a remote manner pity this guy. There is no excuse or evidence of his behaviour but his whimpering moments invites sympathy. Some where along the line he has lost the way and ditched the hope. He has decided to go on a slow suicide and this is his methodology in doing it.

The idea of a hopeless central character is a gamble. It is a risky gamble as the character itself takes on. The acting is another part which could have been humiliating criticism on Keitel’s character crying in a manner waiting for butchering. And beyond that it comes out as this meditation in the darkness of a unlikeable character. While we would not want to see this man in our life, we are enthralled by this film taking that unpleasant man for a ride which becomes an art in the dreadful misery.

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