Tag Archives: abel ferrara

Bad Lieutenant – Review

6 Feb

Abel Ferrara is one of those film makers that you either love or you hate. Some people may call his movies smutty or exploitive, but there are others who call him a true artist with a firm grasp on the medium. In my opinion, Ferrara takes exploitation movies to a more artistic level. I’ve already reviewed his 1990 film King of New York, but now I will be looking at what is objectively called his best movie. It goes without saying that it’s his 1992 crime film Bad Lieutenant.

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The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) is not exactly the kind of cop anyone wants to deal with. He seems a little rough around the edges, but he’s more than meets the eye. He’s violent, addicted to all sorts of drugs, and gambles away most of his money. He seems to have the year’s World Series all figured out, and begins betting everything he has into the game. During all of this, he is also investigating the rape of a young nun (Frankie Thorn), but this particular case gets him thinking about his own actions and what may be the only chance he has at redemption. As his gambling and drug abuse worsens, he is pushed over his limits and begins to lose track of his own life and the parameters of his enforcement of the law.

Before I started watching Bad Lieutenant, I had it in my head that this was going to be a straightforward crime film where the Lieutenant was going to have to catch the guys who raped the nun, and along the way we would see him engage in all of his dark, illegal activities. It’s actually the other way around, in a sense. We actually see the Lieutenant practically destroy his life with drugs and gambling, and sometimes he moves on the case, but not too often. This is more of a character study than it is a straightforward narrative.

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That being said, I do wish there was more of a story. There is some semblance of a plot, but a lot of the movie is just the Lieutenant on the job in the seediest parts of New York City as he gets into all sorts of depraved things. The depravity does reach an all time low in Bad Lieutenant, and there were time that I was surprised that the character went as far as he did. He’s a reprehensible human being, but also very interesting. Still, as cool as his character is, I wanted to see more from the movie. It felt a lot longer than it actually was because not a whole hell of a lot happens by the end of the movie. I guess part of this is because I went into it expecting a more straightforward movie and wasn’t really expecting a movie as wandering as this, if that makes sense.

Harvey Keitel does do an outstanding job as the Lieutenant. That same year he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s first film Reservoir Dogs, but his performance in that just doesn’t match the visceral intensity that he displays here. It was said by the people making this film that Keitel dove really deep into this character and Ferrara left him a lot of room for experimentation and improvisation. Now, the stuff that the Lieutenant gets into, if I hadn’t made it quite clear before, is reprehensible and by the end of shooting, crew member said it was almost hard to watch Keitel get so into character.

It would be easy to call Bad Lieutenant a piece of trashy exploitation, but whoever says that would be sorely mistaken. This is a beautifully shot movie filled with disgusting people and places. Abel Ferrara has a way of filming dirty urban environments and the characters that inhabit them with such a gritty style, and rare moments of true beauty, that it’s hard not to feel like you’re really in the movie with the characters. Now that I know what it’s all about, Bad Lieutenant deserves a second viewing from me, but this movie is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it has the hitting power of a Louisville slugger and is as loud as a magnum fired point blank, so if you can stomach the content check out Bad Lieutenant.

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King of New York – Review

24 Oct

Abel Ferrara is one of those anything goes kind of directors. He has a knack to show gritty urban scenes and not hold back the violence or any other sin or vice that goes along with that lifestyle. He’s also really proficient at turning the black and whites of morality and turning them into one big gray area. A prime example would be his film from 1990, King of New York, a kind of Robin Hood tale if Robin Hood lived in New York City in the early nineties and was a figurehead in the criminal underworld.

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Frank White (Christopher Walken) is a very powerful and very wealthy player in the criminal underworld of New York City who has just gotten released from Sing Sing prison. Upon his return, he meets with an old associate, Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), and his gang to get back to business. This time, Frank believes he is reformed and begins robbing and killing criminals because he doesn’t like how they do their business, with the prime goal of helping to fund the construction of a hospital. Some police officers (played by Victor Argo, David Caruso, and Wesley Snipes) don’t like Frank’s tactics and wage an illegal war against him since traditional legal methods have proven unsuccessful in bringing Frank down.

King of New York is an entertaining movie, but definitely not perfect by any means. In fact, it’s pretty far from perfect. What makes this movie memorable is its strong headed style to show all of the drugs, violence, and sex that happen within the course of the story in graphic detail. A lot of film makers would opt to censor this, or at least tone it down, but Ferrara and his writer, Nicholas St. John, are perfectly comfortable showing the brutality of these criminals.

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The main problem with this movie is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. There are scenes where I felt like I really needed to take the content seriously, but the way it plays out seems like it exists mainly for pulp entertainment. The lighting, the set design, and even the characters all seem very over the top, but the themes of drug use and gang violence are all played as very serious things. This makes the movie very uneven. The film also moves at such a break neck pace that I can’t really fully understand and feel for the complex characters that make this film what it is. Everyone is very complex, and I really want to appreciate their characters, but I didn’t feel like I had the time.

Back to the positives, however, I dare someone to watch this film and not completely love Walken’s performance. He has this way of really enveloping himself in his character to the point where you as the viewer are convinced that you are no longer watching Christopher Walken. Just look at The Deer Hunter. While i did complain about the contrast between the realism and the complete disregard for realism both in the same movie, I will say the over the top scenes are really entertaining. The gun battles and big car chase are really fun to watch, and the strange, almost Argento-ish, kind of lighting in some scenes is real eye candy.

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King of New York is completely uneven and an absolute mess when it comes to character development and a strong plot. What makes this movie interesting are the thematic content, brutality, and the performances by Walken and Fishburne. I can’t see this movie being taken very seriously, but I would be so bold to put it in a cult classic category after doing some research on it. I’d definitely watch King of New York again, and I’d even go so far as to say it is an inspiration for some of the projects that I am working on.