Thursday, April 5, 2007

One of the most spiritually powerful films I've ever seen is The Bad Lieutenant. It is also one of the most disturbing. This may seem like a paradox to some Christians: a film that is equally powerful and disturbing-most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, separate the two: a film is usually either powerful or disturbing. Rarely do these attributes coexist.
Click to enlargeHarvey Keitel's character in The Bad Lieutenant may be one of the most grotesque characters ever seen on screen-he's a compulsive gambler, drug addict, absent father and husband, and he's a dirty cop too. So dirty that in one unsettling scene he pulls over two young girls on a traffic violation-they are out in daddy's car and will do anything to avoid being caught-and verbally rapes them. But it is clear that he lives a tortured life, uncomfortable even with himself; he is desperate for salvation but doesn't believe someone as immoral as him can ever receive grace.

Click to enlargeBut when a nun is raped and forgives her rapists-she knows the two young men but won't give up their names because she has forgiven them-Click to enlargeHarvey Keitel's character realizes that perhaps there is hope of salvation for someone like himself-if the nun is capable of forgiving her rapists, surely God can forgive someone like him. During the film's climax he has a vision of Christ at the altar of the nun's church. He sobs and begs for forgiveness: "I tried to do the right thing, but I'm so f*cking weak!" He then crawls over to Jesus and kisses his feet.

Roger Ebert has this to say about The Bad Lieutenant: "The film has the NC-17 rating, for adults only, and that is appropriate. But it is not a 'dirty movie,' and in fact takes spirituality and morality more seriously than most films do."

Shot on location in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey. The film was photographed in a mere 20 days.

The film is based on a song written by director Abel Ferrara called "The Bad Lieutenant" that, in turn, is based on an incident in which a nun was raped in Spanish Harlem in 1982. Bo Dietl, the policeman who caught the real-life rapists, plays a bearded cop in the movie.

The screenplay was cowritten by Zoë Tamerlis (under the alias Zoë Lund). Tamerlis also plays the lieutenant's drug-shooting mistress and debuted as an actress in Ferrara's 1981 rape-revenge cult hit, MS. 45.

The part of the lieutenant's daughter is played by Harvey Keitel's real daughter, Stella Keitel.

Keitel has a full-frontal nude scene in this film. In 1993 he appeared in Jane Campion's THE PIANO, in which he also had a full-frontal nude scene. This was a highly succesful period of Keitel's career, thanks to these two critically praised films and RESERVOIR DOGS. Around this time the press began to pay homage to his fearlessly "naked" style of acting.

Director Abel Ferrara says of his star: "Harvey Keitel is a national treasure. His performance is just awesome." Rap star Schoolly D's "Signifying Rapper" originally appeared on the soundtrack in the film but was later removed for video releases after legal disputes resulting from Schoolly's unauthorized use of a Led Zeppelin sample in the song.

There are R and unrated versions of this film available, with the unrated version being substantially more powerful and disturbing.

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