Director: Abel Ferrara (1992)
Starring: Harvey Keitel, KeitelPenis
That headline catch your attention, gentle reader? Likewise, much of Abel Ferrara's infamous Bad Lieutenant relies on shock and awe tactics to make its impact. The rape of a nun, repeated and explicit scenes of drug-taking, authority figures acting like complete scumbags... and, indeed, Harvey Keitel's penis. So good that they put it right there on the poster. And the head of this review. And at the bottom of this review.
Keitel and his penis take on the central character of The Lieutenant, a gambling, thieving, junkie police detective. When a nun is violently raped, The Lieutenant senses a chance at redemption, and sets about hunting the rapist down. But all this is just an excuse to watch Keitel doing some truly horrible things. Unforgettable is the scene in which a naked Keitel makes wibbling sounds and waves his manhood around a dirty crack den. Similarly unforgettable is his breakdown in Church, wailing like a crazy person whilst the visage of Jesus stands watching. I've heard good things about the Nic Cage 're-imagining', but Werner Herzog will really have to make with the A-game to beat (or even equal) this original piece. KeitelPenis is probably more famous than the movie itself. Which is a shame, because Bad Lieutenant is a seminal piece of cinema.
Bad Lieutenant is like Dirty Harry minus that sense of righteousness. It's like an X-rated episode of House. It's Maniac Cop made literal. It's a movie that celebrates the nuttiness of its central character, even as it condemns him. He's certainly no aspirational figure, but if I were to become a cop, I'd want to be Harvey Keitel. That said, I want to be Harvey Keitel whatever my surroundings. The Lieutenant is a horrible and possibly irredeemable human being, but magnetically so. Even as he disgusts, you'll watch transfixed in fear as to what his next actions might be. It's a powerhouse performance from Keitel - his Lieutenant is every bit as perversely compelling, complicated and well-acted as Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle, if only less quotable. Naughty Constable disgusts and impresses in equal measures, but who could ever expect a conventional cop movie from the star of Reservoir Dogs and the director of Driller Killer? It defies convention, spits in the face of good taste and wishes everyone "die in hell" while it's busy dangling its crack-injected penis about the place.
Talking of which: