Bad Lieutenant (1992)
As one of the bleakest and most crime-ridden periods in the history of New York City was coming to an end, indie-filmmaker Abel Ferrara made Bad Lieutenant, a film that became the representation, culmination, and perhaps even redemption of said period. It's about a police lieutenant, played by Harvey Keitel (himself a native New Yorker who had seen it all), who has let himself fall into a downward spiral of gambling, drug-use and corrupt police work over several years. He is the embodiment of the city's debauchery and he's on a collision-course. And although he's in denial about his self-destruction, he is filled with the guilt his self-indulgence inflicts on his soul. With its unpolished and unyielding rendition of life on the streets, Bad Lieutenant was a wake-up call at the time and remains a stomach punch today. And Ferrara's method of following Keitel around the city with a camera, documenting his downfall and his confused attempts of redemption, gives the film an authentic, almost documentary feel (something which is also enhanced by ZoŽ Lund's painfully real contribution). It's distressing and draining much in the same way that Last Tango in Paris was, and Keitel's performance is reminiscent of Brando's in that film, especially regarding the actors' bravery and willingness to let their faces and bodies become a symbol for some of the ugliest aspects of humanity. Ferrara doesn't condemn his protagonist, however. He argues that he is merely a product of the corrupted society he's living in, albeit also the worst representative for it. This is the essence of the film, and this is what redeems an otherwise completely unsympathetic character.