Saintly Thugsrnby David R. SlavittrnReservoir DogsrnProduced by Lawrence BenderrnWritten and Directed byrnQuentin TarantinornReleased by Miramax FilmsrnThe Bad LieutenantrnProduced by Edward PressmanrnWritten by Abel Ferrara and Zoe LundrnDirected by Abel FerrararnReleased by Aries FilmsrnThe wa’ the camera turns an actor’srnbody into an objet d’art is wonderful.rnSome faces—Bogart’s, for instance,rnor Cooper’s, or Wayne’s—can be mapsrnof experience, the topography of thosernweathered lines and architectural planesrnsuggesting a richness of emotional historyrnthat endows any routine scene withrndepth and dimension. Harvey Keitel’s isrnsuch a body and such a face, as the extraordinaryrnweekend I’ve just spent withrntwo of his films makes abundantly clear.rnThere is a peasant crudeness to the nosernand the bones of the brow, but thernmouth, surprisingly delicate, is at certainrnangles almost beautiful. Bogie, too,rnhad that hint of femininity around thernmouth (the slight lisp helped) and thosernsad, hooded eyes that made a roughhewnrnph)siognomy fascinating, not altogetherrnpredictable, and therefore dramatic.rnKeitel can bring to his portrayal ofrnthugs, then, an implicit but nonethelessrnpowerful suggestion that the thuggishnessrnisn’t all of it and that his cop or hisrnrobber isn’t merely a villain. And, afterrnall, who is altogether worthless, absolutelyrnunredeemed, or, worse, unredeemable?rnIn a pair of amazing performancesrnin these two fine films, onernwatches Keitel’s self-contradictory face,rnrumpled and worn by suffering and depravityrnbut still capable of nuance andrnsurprisingly vulnerable to pain. Thatrnface holds the eye, as the mind wandersrnfreely among the suggestions from thernwriter and director of complicated issuesrnof loyalty and betrayal, destiny andrnfree will, good and evil.rnReservoir Dogs is another cleverrnmoral tale about how crime does notrnpay—because of the limitations of thernhuman condition. As in The Treasurernof the Sierra Madre and, indeed, as inrnChaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale,” the idea isrnthat duplicity’s defect is usually its intricacy,rnwhich is too demanding for ourrnimperfect universe. It isn’t criminal lavvrnbut Murphy’s law that comes into play,rnand there is a more or less tactful suggestionrnthat a kind of justice, perhapsrneven a divine justice, operates here. Wernwatch a robbery that goes bad, not justrnbecause of bad luck but because of badrnfaith. One of the gang members is anrnundercover policeman. But if one hasrnratted, then all must be under suspicion.rnAnd the elegance of their calculationsrnis what makes these crooks, psychopaths,rnand sadists interesting to watch. Keitelrnis Mr. White, a kind of journeymanrnthief who is clever, wary, brave, resourceful,rnand even ruthless—but notrnquite enough! It is his inevitable andrnperfectly believable lapse from the perfectionrnof villainy that ruins him.rnThe script, with its humor and intricacy,rnis what attracted Keitel to thernyoung Quentin Tarantino’s film. Keitelrncoproduced the picture, and it was primarilyrnhis participation that enabled thernmaking of this bright, cheeky youngster’srnfirst movie. (Tarantino is only inrnhis late 20’s, and this film is an amazingrndebut.) The surface of the picture is violentrnbut witty—not merely because ofrnthe kinds of wise-cracks with whichrnEastwood or Schwarzenegger have beenrnwinking at us from their abattoir carnage,rnbut because of the crackling andrnlegitimate expressions of the charactersrnof the piece. In an introductory scene,rnbefore the main title, in which the gangrnis sitting around a table in some diner,rnone of the men points his finger at Keitel,rnas if it were a gun. “You shoot me inrna dream,” Keitel says, “you better wakernup and apologize!”rnThe ensemble work is lovely. Alongrnwith Keitel’s Mr. White, Steve Busccmi’srndangerous Mr. Pink, and EddiernBunker’s appalling and nearly derangedrnMr. Blue, there is Lawrence Tierney’srngruff Joe Cabot, the chief executive officerrnof this ad-hoc association. Theyrnare all shrewd, but also funny becausernof their self-awareness, and they are violentrnbecause that is how they have chosenrnor been driven to behave. For thernfilm to work, as it does, we have to admirerntheir sangfroid—and there is plentyrnof sang for them to crawl through.rnTim Roth, who plays Mr. Orange with arnfine Pacino-like intensity, asks Mr.rnWhite what he should do if the managerrndoesn’t hand over the diamondsrnright away. “Cut off a finger,” Keitelrntells him matter-of-factly. “The littlernfinger, and then tell him the thumb willrnbe next.” Then, without missing a beat,rnhe says, “I’m hungry. Let’s get a taco.”rnTarantino’s script is really a knockout,rnand this wonderful debut is likelv to be arnbeacon that will attract dozens, mayberneven hundreds, of talented voung fihnmakers,rngiving them hope to try thernsame long-shot bet that a good scriptrnwill somehow lure the right people andrnthat the elements will come together inrnsome spontaneous way. It’s what is supposedrnto happen and almost never does.rnThat it still can, however rarely, is anrnoccasion for general thanksgiving andrncelebration.rnMore usual is the career of someonernlike Abel Ferrara, the 42-year-old directorrnof The Bad Lieutenant, who had tornserve as an apprentice for movies yournand I have never heard of—DrillerrnKiller, for instance, a 1979 spatter flickrnthat demonstrates the potential forrnbloody violence of a power drill. In therncourse of making these exploitation andrnshlock films, he was able to put togetherrna low-life version of the repertory companiesrnthat Ingmar Bergman andrnWoody Allen managed to contrive. Therntruth is that if you figure out a way to attractrnan audience so that your films haverna reasonable likelihood of making money,rnthen, for as long as you can keep thernaccountants happy, you can do whateverrnyou want.rnFerrara’s sensibility is like that of. . .rnGeorges Bataille, or Celine, or Pasolini,rnor de Sade. The underside of things fascinatesrnhim because that is where he exlUNErn1993/49rnrnrn