Wednesday, October 20, 2010
BAD LIEUTENANT (1992) - Abel Ferrara
For better or worse, the sick, depraved scuzzbucket masterpiece that is the original Bad Lieutenant will always hold a place near and dear to my darkest of hearts. For one, it's New York as I first came to know it, a dirty, dangerous place in a time when the Lower East Side still had more crackhouses than Crunch Gyms, before Times Square was wholly owned by Mickey Mouse and when the closest thing to Disney were the freaks in cages dancing to bad techno and worse Ecstasy at Peter Gatien's Limelight. Also, it's one of the last movies I ever had the balls to sneak into in New York -- a free midnight show at the Angelika courtesy of a wide open exit door. But, believe me, my bad ain't got nuthin' on the old Lieutenant's.
I've heard people toss around the term "gritty" to describe movies a million times. I'm sorry, but The Usual Suspects is not gritty. Ghost Rider is most certainly not gritty (seriously Netflix?). Even the pseudo-sequel to this, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, I would never call gritty (goofy and game, perhaps). A Schoolly D beat following strung-out cop Harvey Keitel through shit-smeared tenement hallways and Korean delis looking to score crack, heroin, whatever substance he can get his hands on and then make a few more bets on a baseball game when he should be solving the case of raped nun? Yes, that will forever be the definition of "gritty" to me.
You don't have to be a Catholic, or even very religious, to appreciate the skewed morality that Ferrara's pushing in this film though. It DOES help tremendously if you are or have ever been a New Yorker. Or, at least, a New York sports fan. For all the many, many "sins" that Keitel commits in this film (smoking crack, chasing the dragon, jerking it to Jersey girls on the West Side Highway, calling the manifestation of Christ a "rat-fuck" to his face), the one he pays most dearly for when all is said and done is betting against the Mets.