Bad Lieutenant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the 2009 film, see The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. For the band that includes former members of New Order, see Bad Lieutenant (band).
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Lieutenant .jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Produced by Edward R. Pressman
Written by Zoë Lund
Paul Calderon
Abel Ferrara
Starring Harvey Keitel
Music by Joe Delia
Cinematography Ken Kelsch
Edited by Anthony Redman
Distributed by Aries Films
Release dates
  • November 20, 1992 (1992-11-20)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1 million
Box office $2 million

Bad Lieutenant is a 1992 American neo-noir crime drama film directed by Abel Ferrara. The film stars Harvey Keitel as the titular "bad lieutenant". The screenplay was written by actress-model Zoë Lund, who also plays a small role in the film. Lund had been discovered by Ferrara and had starred in his earlier film, Ms. 45.

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[2]


In The Bronx, the Lieutenant drops his two sons off at Catholic school. After they leave the car, and before he drives to work, the Lieutenant takes a few small bumps of cocaine. His first case is a double murder. He wanders away from the scene to get some coffee, and across the street, he watches a petty thief rifling through the trunks of parked cars, which the Lieutenant ignores. He approaches a group of drug dealers, who run off as he approaches. The Lieutenant follows one dealer into an apartment building and up the stairs. The dealer waits for him in the hallway, and the Lieutenant gives him a bag of drugs from a crime scene. The Lieutenant quickly smokes some crack, and then sets aside a portion of the drugs for himself. The thief promises to give him the money he makes from selling the drugs in a few days. At an apartment, the Lieutenant gets drunk and engages in a threesome with two women. Meanwhile, a nun is raped in a church by two young hoodlums.

The next morning, the Lieutenant is passed out on the couch in his home as his two young daughters watch TV. His family comes to the table for breakfast, and he stirs. He immediately flips the TV to see the results of a National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Dodgers. Realizing he has lost his bet, he stumbles out of the house. He tries to win back his money by doubling his wager on the next game in the series. The Mets have lost the first three games, and he is certain that the Dodgers will win again. At another crime scene, the Lieutenant rifles through the car and finds some drugs which he stashes in his suit jacket. However, he is too impaired to secure the drugs, and they fall out onto the street. His colleagues look at him in horror, and he tries to play it off by instructing them to enter the drugs into evidence.

At the hospital, the Lieutenant spies on the nun's examination by the doctors, who explain that the two boys also raped her with objects like a crucifix. Later that evening, he pulls over two teenage girls from New Jersey who are using their father's car without his knowledge to go to a club. Without proper licenses, he forces one of the girls to strip and the other to simulate fellatio while he masturbates.

The next day, at the church, the Lieutenant listens in on the nun's deposition; she is silent as the police ask her about the identities of her assailants. He leaves and is seen drinking and driving while listening to the final moments of the next game in the pennant series. When the Dodgers lose, he shoots out his car stereo. During the First Communion of one of his children, we learn as he converses with a friend that his wager now stands at $30,000, more than he can afford to pay. Nonetheless, he doubles his wager on the series.

The Lieutenant eavesdrops on the nun's confession. She says she has no animosity toward her attackers, and sees the attack as an opportunity for God's grace to be bestowed on them. The Lieutenant drinks in a bar while the Dodgers lose to the Mets. He wanders out into the street, then a nightclub, where he scores more cocaine. In a bar, he tries to double his bet on the series yet again. His friend refuses to make the wager, insisting that the bookie would kill him for nothing, and it would be suicidal to owe him $120,000. The Lieutenant is unwavering in his belief that the Mets cannot win the series, and he appears to identify with Darryl Strawberry.

Continuing his drug use, the Lieutenant picks up his $30,000 share from the drug dealer who sold the evidence he had stolen. He then calls the bookie personally to place the bet; the bookie says he will think about taking it. The Lieutenant visits a woman (Zoë Tamerlis Lund), and does heroin with her. She delivers a monologue about vampires.

The Lieutenant drives to the church where the nun was raped and finds her kneeling in prayer before the altar. In a near-stupor from his drinking and drug use, he tells her that if she will identify her attackers, he will give her justice—i.e., that he will kill them for her. She repeats that she has forgiven them already then gets up and leaves the lieutenant alone on his knees at the altar. The lieutenant suffers an emotional breakdown. He sees the crucified Christ standing in the aisle of the church and tearfully curses him before confessing his own weakness and begging forgiveness for his crimes. He crawls to the figure before him and kisses the bloody feet only to look up and see a woman holding a gold chalice. The woman tells him that the two rapists pawned the chalice at her husband's store.

The Lieutenant then tracks down the two rapists and cuffs them together. He holds them at gunpoint and then has them light a crack pipe which he then smokes with them as they watch the Mets make their historic comeback and win the pennant. Instead of booking the two rapists, he takes them to the Port Authority and puts them on a bus with the cigar box containing the $30,000. He insists that they take the bus and never come back to New York City. After he leaves the terminal, he parks on the street in front of Penn Station. Another car drives up beside him, and a voice yells, "Hey, cop!" before two shots ring out. The film closes as bystanders gather around the car, realizing that the Lieutenant has been murdered.



According to Lund, "There was alot of rewriting done on the set. Two other characters were cut, and my character modulated and took on more and more. A lot of things had to be changed and improvised. The vampire speech — which is crucial to the Lieutenant — was written two minutes before it was shot. I memorized it and did it in one take. The speech is important because she is acute in knowing the journey the Lieutenant makes. She shoots him up, sends him off, knowing of his passion, she lets him go."[3]

Lund admitted in an interview that she "co-directed" several scenes in the film.[4] Lund also claimed that she wrote the screenplay of Bad Lieutenant alone and believed that Ferrara did not put much effort in his contributions in the film.[5][6]

According to Jonas Mekas, Lund's ex-boyfriend Edouard de Laurot was reported to have written most of the film's script.[6] David Scott Milton later vouched this claim.[7] Mekas even claims he has "scribbles and notes to prove it."[8]

Ferrara admitted in a 2012 interview that he was using drugs during the making of the film: "The director of that film needed to be using, the director and the writer—not the actors."[9]

Alternate versions[edit]

Originally rated NC-17 and one of the few films to be rated such with drug use cited as one of the main reasons (the only other film being Comfortably Numb), the unedited cut was described for "sexual violence, strong sexual situations and dialogue, graphic drug use".

Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, the largest video rental companies in the United States, had a policy prohibiting the purchase and rental of NC-17 films. An R-rated cut was created specifically so that Blockbuster and the other retailers would rent and purchase out the film. The R-rated cut was described with "drug use, language, violence, and nudity".


Bad Lieutenant has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 30 positive reviews out of 39. Writing in the New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Ferrara's talent for making "gleefully down-and-dirty films", continuing, "He has come up with his own brand of supersleaze, in a film that would seem outrageously, unforgivably lurid if it were not also somehow perfectly sincere."[10] Desson Howe called the Lieutenant "a notch nicer than Satan" in the Washington Post, and he cites Keitel's work as the film's saving grace, "It is only the strength of Keitel's performance that gives his personality human dimension.".[11]

Mark Kermode has mentioned that the film was praised as "a powerful tale of redemptive Catholicism".[12] Roger Ebert stated that "in the Bad Lieutenant, Keitel has given us one of the great screen performances in recent years".[13] Martin Scorsese named this movie as the fifth best movie of the 1990s.[14]


An unrelated follow-up, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, was released in 2009, seventeen years following the first film's release. The film was directed by Werner Herzog and described as being "neither a sequel nor a remake."[15] Both films were produced by Edward R. Pressman.


  1. ^ "BAD LIEUTENANT (18)". Guild Film Distribution. British Board of Film Classification. October 16, 1992. Retrieved August 21, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Bad Lieutenant". Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  3. ^ Zoe Tamerlis Lund interview
  4. ^ Zoe Tamerlis on drugs and sex in "Bad Lieutenant"
  5. ^ Zoe Tamerlis on the script of "Bad Lieutenant"
  6. ^ a b Rubinstein, Raphael (September 2014). "MISSING FOOTAGE". The White Review. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Milton, David Scott (13 September 2014). "Edouard de Laurot, Film Genius and Lunatic". Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Edouard De Laurot
  9. ^ Walker, Luke (15 March 2012). "Breaking Bad: The Second Coming of Abel Ferrara". Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 20, 1992). "Jaded Cop, Raped Nun: Bad Indeed". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  11. ^ Howe, Desson (January 29, 1993). "Bad Lieutenant". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  12. ^ Kermode, Mark (December 24, 2006). "Why the Life of Brian beats The Passion of The Christ". The Observer. Archived from the original on 19 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 22, 1993). "Review of Bad Lieutenant". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (26 February 2000). "Ebert & Scorsese: Best Films of the 1990s". Retrieved 7 June 2011.  External link in |work= (help)
  15. ^ Douglas, Edward (2008-07-05). "Exclusive: The Bad Lieutenant is NOT a Remake!". (Coming Soon Media, L.P). Archived from the original on 10 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 

External links[edit]