Saturday, 18 August 2012

Alternate Best Actor 1992: Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant

Harvey Kietel did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character in Bad Lieutenant.

Bad Lieutenant is a character study of a Catholic police Lieutenant who investigates the rape of a nun by two men.

Harvey Kietel was of course not nominated for this role as the bad Lieutenant despite receiving plenty of rave reviews for his performance. Well the most obvious reason for his snub was that his performance was in a NC-17 rated film, which is not a rating you want if you want an Oscar nomination. This is especially true for a man as the academy just does not seem to like men naked, so it is easy to see Kietel get snubbed as he is one actor in particular who does not mind showing everything he's got. The only time Kietel was nominated was his multilayer work in Bugsy, multilayer in clothes not in characterization, I think Michael Fassbender might need to take note of this if he ever wishes to obtain a nomination.

I think what really did not help is the nature of the bad Lieutenant as a character, and the uncompromising fashion in which Kietel portrays him. The bad before the Lieutenant is entirely required for the description of this cop. The Lieutenant is not at all good in his workaday life from the very opening scene where he is checking out an accident. Kietel approaches the role from this early scene without any special style to his performance. He is not like Denzel Washington in Training Day showboating his way through his role as a corrupt cop, instead Kietel is far more effective and realistic through how down to earth he portrays the part. In his scene here with nothing more than a glance Kietel portrays that the Lieutenant is only interested in checking out the deceased female victim of the crime scene, rather than having any concern for the actual crime.

Kietel never tries to portray the part as some cool man of the streets who knows just how to be a dirty cop. No instead Kietel shows there to be nothing special in what the Lieutenant does no matter what it does. When the Lieutenant is taking drugs constantly and very casually throughout the film, there is not a hint of pleasure in Kietel's performance. He rather just is doing it, since for the Lieutenant cynical morality he has no reason not to do it. There is no belief there it seems as Kietel moves from corrupt action to action. He doesn't play it up like an even knowing act of corruption he handles it all so naturally. Due to the fact that Kietel is so blunt in his portrayal it makes the scene have all the more of a punch to them, because it all seems such an average day for the Bad Lieutenant.

Kietel always portrays the Lieutenant as a man not even as even a special corrupt cop, just simply a corrupt cop. An interesting act though Kietel pulls off is that the Lieutenant to some degree pretends to be a whole lot more than he really is. When ever he calls the baseball game in the film with very large and foolish bets that always end up the opposite of the way he plans, Kietel though brings in a certain pompous quality with the Lieutenant. Kietel does not portray this as a pompousness in the way of say John Gielgud would, but in fact shows the Lieutenant trying to be the big man of the streets who can simply just sense things. The fact is he can't though and there is always a weakness shown by Kietel, and he always makes the point that as much as the Lieutenant wants to act like he knows the score, he knows nothing.

The Lieutenant's behavior though can become actually even more severe than his drug taking, money pilfering, prostitution soliciting, particularly in his scene where he forces two women to perform in front of him while he pleasures himself. Kietel in this scene is particularly effective in portraying just how blunt the Lieutenant is in his cruelty. Kietel is especially to the point in this scene in that the Lieutenant is simply going to get what he wants, and he is brutally intense in portraying the Lieutenant's depravity. Kietel does not makes excuses for the Lieutenant here just portraying the Lieutenant as a man constantly looking for quick satisfaction and using his power as a cop to do so.

The Lieutenant as depraved as he is, and as much as he doesn't at times, he does have a very hidden sense of morality that is strongly associated with his background as a Catholic. The crux of the film comes in the nun rape and a very important moments as he looks at the nun after the rape. Throughout the rest he breezed through every horrible act he committed, but here Kietel subtly suggests that this is something that deeply affects him. Although Kietel does portray this as something passing over him it continues as he continues with the case  and listens in to the nun in a confessional who refuses to name the rapists and even says she forgives them. Kietel is absolutely amazing in portraying just how this throws of the Lieutenant's whole cyncial view of the world.

The very end of the film is simply one astonishing scene after another by Kietel as he first tries to convince the Nun the vengeance is a good thing. Kietel is brilliant, as he makes the Lieutenant pained to try to bring the woman to some sort of lower level of human emotion, since he simply cannot face the fact that everything is not as horrendous as he is. This is followed by the Lieutenant breaking down and seeming to see Jesus in the church asking for forgiveness. Even with all of what he has done before Kietel is absolutely heartbreaking as he brings to life just how this revelation in the Lieutenant has shattered him, and forced him to face the fact that he is a bad man. Kietel brings about the man that was always below all the depravity that cannot bear the fact of what he has become.

Soon afterwards though the Lieutenant is able to track down the two rapists, and the following is a truly set of bizarre circumstance. Kietel though is absolutely amazing the Lieutenant is constantly struggling with himself in what to do. He is able to truly convey the confusion in the man that knows that he is the worst. This is not a simple rejection of his past though as the Lieutenant still uses his drugs and still threatens to kill both the men at gun point. The difference though comes in his attitude. Before everything the Lieutenant did he took in basically stride from one moment to the next here though Kietel shows that the Lieutenant is absolutely devoted to the moment. It is simply a stunning scene by Kietel as he brings about the complete emotional breakdown. This is an incredible performance by Harvey Kietel unforgiving in any aspect of his portrayal making this final face down with morality an unforgettable ending to this uncompromising characterization.


RatedRStar said...

=D such a badass guy lol.

dshultz said...

Oscar nom or not (which was very undeserved) Harvey Keitel has got to be one of the most under-appreciated actors around.

I agree with you Louis, Keitel made a terrific choice in portraying the Lieutenant as simply as possible. He is simply a bully with a badge, and thus his emotions and revelations are so much more powerful as a result. Sometimes, you do not have to be special in a performance to produce a special performance.

I will be gravely upset if he does not win.

Nues20 said...

Terrific IMO Keitel should be one of the more prolifically nominated actors in the Oscars.
Travesty that he wasn't even nominated this year.
Did they do a re-make of this film by any chance?
I remember something going around a while ago Matthew McConoughey or something?...

mrripley said...

I think he is great but i loathe the movie and would not have nommed him.

Louis Morgan said...

Nues20: There was a sequel in name only by Werner Herzog starring Nicolas Cage.

GradyTripp said...

I love his performance, but I would be 'gravely upset' myself if Jack Lemmon didn't win.

RatedRStar said...

Did you ever see Keitel in Ridley Scotts underated The Duellists as some say he was miscast.