Bad Lieutenant

Still of Harvey Keitel in Bad LieutenantStill of Harvey Keitel and Frankie Thorn in Bad LieutenantStill of Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant


While investigating a young nun's rape, a corrupt New York City police detective, with a serious drug and gambling addiction, tries to change his ways and find forgiveness.

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 6.9/10 (17,014 voted)

Critic's Score: 67/100

Abel Ferrara

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon

A police Lieutenant goes about his daily tasks of investigating homicides, but is more interested in pursuing his vices. He has accumulated a massive debt betting on baseball, and he keeps doubling to try to recover. His bookies are beginning to get agitated. The Lieutenant does copious amounts of drugs, cavorts with prostitutes, and uses his status to take advantage of teenage girls. While investigating a nun's rape, he begins to reflect on his lifestyle.

Writers: Abel Ferrara, Victor Argo


Harvey Keitel

The Lieutenant

Victor Argo

Beat Cop

Paul Calderon

Cop #1

(as Paul Calderone)

Leonard L. Thomas

Cop #2

(as Leonard Thomas)

Robin Burrows


Frankie Thorn

The Nun

Victoria Bastel


Paul Hipp


Brian McElroy

Lieutenant's Son (#1)

Frankie Acciarito

Lieutenant's Son (#2)

Peggy Gormley

Lieutenant's Wife

Stella Keitel

Lieutenant's Daughter

Dana Dee

Lieutenant's Baby Girl

Anthony Ruggiero


Vincent Laresca


Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop.


Official Website:
Official site |

Release Date: 20 November 1992

Filming Locations: Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $1,000,000


Opening Weekend: $47,454
(22 November 1992)
(2 Screens)

Gross: $2,527,895

Technical Specs



(R-rated version)

Did You Know?


Co-writer Zoë Lund plays the women that Harvey Keitel's character does drugs with in her home.


Revealing mistakes:
When the Mets win the pennant, we see the Met catcher roll the ball toward the mound and run toward the dugout. This is obviously the end of an inning, but not the end of a game.


The Lieutenant:
Get with the program!

User Review

Rough content, but beautifully bleak and harrowing

Rating: 9/10

People are probably right enough when they comment that this entire
film essentially hinges on Harvey Kietel's impassioned performance as
the corrupt and deeply troubled lieutenant of the title. Which
shouldn't necessarily be taken as a shortcoming – an engrossing lead is
the one key thing that any one-man character study like this needs in
order to flourish, after all. Whether sobbing, howling or clenching his
jaws in anguish, or else hanging his head and sipping liquor in
silence, his acting here is always raw, convincing and utterly
compelling; the kind of portrayal you'd be hard-pressed to take your
eyes off. The exact identity of his character is never revealed, but
the title informs us he's a 'bad lieutenant', a label seemingly
confirmed by his tendency to indulge in substance abuse, work up heavy
gambling debts and even, on occasion, pull over a couple of young
female drivers and use them as motivation for his own self-pleasure.
Very lurid, and yet the way that Kietel plays him also makes feel
completely human. He conveys such pain and desperation behind his each
and every immoral action that they never come across as nearly as
shocking or vulgar to watch as they are harrowing. It's this alone that
enables 'Bad Lieutenant' as a whole to reach the true extent of its
potential – what could easily be read off as a plethora of fury,
drug-taking, masturbation and full-frontal nudity in practice
translates very aptly into a sad and striking depiction of a despondent
man who's lost his ability to see goodness in anything in life, and
who's sinking ever deeper beneath the weight of all those answers being
continuously sought in the wrong places. As you've probably worked out
by now, this isn't exactly the balmiest movie you could spending your
time with (might be wrong, but I don't think there's a single
light-hearted moment to be found in the entire screenplay), but if you
can bring yourself to look past the sourness on the surface and instead
feel sympathy for this bad lieutenant, as Kietel's involving
performance invites us to do, then you'll find some considerable power
lurking in its bleakness.

So, while it's Harvey Kietel who really (and rightly) brings things
together in 'Bad Lieutenant' and makes it the affecting
near-masterpiece that it is, it would be unfair of me to completely
overlook Ferrara's role in this equation. He's provided the context
against which our centrepiece man must function – a world so run-down,
sombre and nihilistic that trying to find redemption round here seems
not only impossible, but practically pointless. The mood is well-set by
the ever-overcast skies; killing, rape and robbery are rampant, and the
Lt isn't exactly given a great deal to aspire to in his day-to-day
life. Kietel and his character are admittedly the only things here that
come off as particularly outstanding – the vast majority of supporting
characters are really all just part of this one big daunting backdrop,
with dialogue, screen time and development kept to a strict minimum in
each case – though personally I look at this as being more of an
additional strength than as a weakness. That everyone else around him
always seems so distant only increases the overall feelings of
detachment and isolation that draw us deeper into the Lt's outlook.

Christian faith and symbolism are pretty integral to the overall themes
of this movie, but even being non-religious myself I find I can still
get a good deal of emotional investment in it. It delivers its
underlying issues – of non-judgement and the potential for goodness in
even the most repellent of sinners – with acute precision, as reflected
in the investigation concerning the raping of a young nun which the
plot loosely revolves around. While this heinous crime only serves to
strengthen the Lt's belief in the general depravity of the world around
him, the nun herself has found solace in her refusal to condemn those
who wronged her, viewing them instead as victims as their own confusion
and despair. There are of course some fairly sharp parallels between
this scenario and the Lt's own personal predicament, which any viewer
who's really come to feel for him will recognise – as displeasing as
some of the things he himself gets up to may be (and the way he
incorporates further crime into his efforts to uphold the law), there's
that challenge lying at the centre of every scene as to whether or not
we're really in any position to pass judgement upon him. All things
considered, is it truly a bad lieutenant that he is at heart or just,
well, a sad one?

I don't imagine that everyone will quite take to the conclusion this
eventually leads to (and which I'm not going to give away here), but
considering just how weighty a lot of the issues it addresses really
are, you never get the impression that Ferrara ever intended to come up
with a cut-and-dried solution of any sorts. Instead, he and Kietel have
put together a polished and powerful piece of film-making that, though
it deals with some pretty disagreeable and, at the time at least,
controversial subject matter, is so rich in great acting (well, one
great performance, but it's easily worth the input of an entire cast)
and slick atmospherics that it becomes entirely captivating. In the
end, it's the surprising amount of depth and emotional muscle that it
carries, and not the notorious reputation that it garnered, that 'Bad
Lieutenant' really deserves to be remembered for – and remembered I
hope it always will be. Another great in early 90s cinema.

Grade: A