Bad Lieutenant is a neo-noir film made in 1992 by Abel Ferrara, concerning a nameless New York police lieutenant (played by Harvey Keitel) as he goes about his daily business of solving homicides while simultaneously indulging in his drug habits and prostitution and worrying about how to pay off his baseball gambling debts, all the while using his position as a weapon to get away with everything. During the investigation of a nun's rape, the Lieutenant begins to reflect on his lifestyle, wondering if he can change it.
The film inspired The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a movie that features a similar main character, yet is still quite different.
Bad Lieutenant provides examples of:
- Anti-Villain: The Lieutenant is a truly loathsome piece of work but it's gradually shown he's fully aware of how vile he is and hates himself for it and his hedonism is his way of coping.
- The Atoner: The Lieutenant is gradually revealed as this.
- Author Appeal: The Lieutenant sometimes visits the apartment of a thin girl who shoots heroin. She was played by Zoë Lund (née Tamerlis), who was the co-writer of the screenplay, and was a heroin advocate, and also shoots real heroin in those scenes. She is also given writing credit on "Port of Call New Orleans", although by that time she was already deceased. From cocaine rather than heroin (she kicked the habit, only to pick up a new one).
- Being Evil Sucks: The Lieutenant lives a truly miserable and unenviable existence, engaging in all manner of depravity which he takes little to no joy in and which only serves as a way of taking away the real pain of his bone deep self-loathing and feelings of existential abandonment.
- Bowdlerized: As places like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video refused to carry NC-17-rated films (such as this), the film's distributor Live Entertainment released an R-rated version that cuts out five minutes of the explicit content, which messes with the pacing and lessens the films impact.
- Creator Cameo: Zoë Lund. She had previously worked with director Ferrara, having played the titular role in Ms. 45, and co-wrote the film's screenplay.
- Dirty Cop: The Titular Nameless Lieutenant. Not only does he sexually harass women and jerks off in front of one of them, he partakes in cocaine and heroin and is a pretty horrible person in general.
- Downer Ending: The Lieutenant himself is killed by a drive-by shooter after finally finding redemption and self-forgiveness by freeing the nun's rapists.Drive-By Shooter: Hey, cop!
- The Hero Dies: The Lieutenant himself at the end.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The Liutenant is about as unheroic a character as you will ever see in a film and even he is disgusted by the rapists, resisting the urge to kill them both out of sheer disgust.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: The Lieutenant possesses a very short fuse.
- Hookers and Blow: There's several scenes of the Lieutenant getting strung out with a couple of prostitutes. It's a lot more sleazy and grimy than the trope is usually presented, however, and it's clear the Lieutenant gets little, if any, pleasure from such actions.. In the scene with Zoe Lund, that's real Heroin being injected into her.
- Jerkass: The Lieutenant is a depraved, ill-tempered and generally amoral bastard who abuses his power in all sorts of horrific ways.
- Karma Houdini: The nun's rapists. Even considering the fact that the nun forgives them, the Lieutenant smokes drugs with them and then puts them on a bus for parts unknown, and gives them the cigar box with thirty grand in it.
- Leave the Camera Running: The final scene keeps going after the main event occurs.
- Male Frontal Nudity: Happens with the Lieutenant during one of his drug taking scenes. It's an unpleasant sight, to say the least.
- Manly Tears: The Lieutenant, most notably in the church scene.
- No Name Given: The Lieutenant. He's only credited as LT and is only called Lieutenant by the characters in the film
- Rape as Drama: The nun. Though apparently she copes with it better than expected.
- Redemption Equals Death: The Lieutenant himself at the end.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: After spending so much on the cynical end, the film amazingly ends on an idealistic note that shows that even the worst individuals are never completely beyond redemption.
- Tragic Villain: The Lieutenant is an awful person, no question, but he's clearly lived a very tough life and his addictions are less about hedonism and more his only way of living with himself and to escape his self-hatred and despair. By the end, he reveals he feels completely abandoned by God and is truly desperate for some kind of salvation.