Film as character study is always an interesting proposition. Cinema, as a whole, is such a plot-centric art form that to succeed when otherwise requires especially fine crafting. Not that brainless big-budget studio fare consisting solely of story and nothing else is ever very good-those other elements are definitely necessary to create a great film-but even most quality character-driven movies still have some degree of story, even if it plays second fiddle to the character relationships. But a true, well-executed character study in which story means next to nothing is rare. Bad Lieutenant is just such a film. Read my review after the jump:
Bad Lieutenant traces a cop’s descent into self-destruction and eventual, albeit brief, redemption. Sure, Harvey Keitel’s Lieutenant does a lot in the film (much of it repetitive), but most of his actions simply show the spiral of his life out of control. They don’t further a story; there simply isn’t much of a story at all. The Lieutenant not only does not take part in the single most important story element of the film (the rape of the nun), his lesson learned from that event comes from observing the nun’s own response in its aftermath-an indirect relationship to the rape at best.
Needless to say, any such character-study lives and dies on its lead actor, and Harvey Keitel is phenomenal in the lead role. The Lieutenant is a truly dynamic character with intense depth, dimensionality and complexity. Keitel nails every high, every low, and every nuance in between. I have to admit there was one sound he’d make in every crying breakdown scene that I found absolutely hilarious, but that took nothing away from the veracity of his performance-the sound, to me, itself was funny.
The other actors perform admirably, but this is definitely Keitel’s show and they don’t obstruct or diminish it. In terms of other production values, the lighting and cinematography really stood out. Their minimalism provided a gritty realism that enhanced the intimate nature of such a close examination of one man’s life.
The hard-core drug use and violent sexual content means Bad Lieutenant is not a film for everybody, for those whom such elements are not an immediate turn off, definitely a movie worth watching.
Video / Audio / Extras
The DVD looks great! You almost wouldn’t think the film was made when it was-picture quality looks more like a recent film set in the early 90s. The audio is almost as crisp, although in the club scene I thought I heard a little static.
But special features… sheesh! This is a special edition? Ouch, makes me wonder what was included on the regular edition, because there were actually previous editions (it’s not a case of the first and only release being labeled “special”). The only extras are the theatrical trailer, the de facto audio commentary, and a “making-of” documentary. Criticisms of the lack of bonus features aside, the “making of” featurette is really good, one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a long time, with nice production values to boot.
Great cinematic character study.