Bad Lieutenant, a 1992 movie by Abel Ferrara starring Harvey Keitel as a cop with a gambling problem, is a bizarre and profound movie, a lurid psychodrama weaving together images of out-of-control vice with religious symbolism.

There’s a lot going on in that movie, but the major sub-plot of “double or nothing” gambling disaster keeps coming to mind as I try to understand where the Iraq misadventure has been coming from – and, in a fuzzy way, where it might tend to be going.

If you haven’t seen it yet (and are not too squeamish about occasionally intense images of depravity) I recommend watching it in juxtaposition to the “turning the corner” PR blitz that will be ramping up next week.

If you have seen the movie already then you might recognize what I’m talking about here…
I found a rough draft of the screenplay the movie was based on, and mined some of the choice bits from there, for entertainment as well as enlightenment:

The Mets are gonna win the Series. They’re a lock. Get this, man. I was at the game today. Face to fucking face with Strawberry! Jesus! I saw him strikeout. And you know what? He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he laughed and I laughed and it was like we were all alone in that whole stadium and only we understood that it was all a racket, that he struck out on purpose, and that he’s saving it up for the Big One. Tomorrow. Today I understood for the very first time that — that there was never any other way it could have gone. Never any other way. So you had better just put in my fucking bet. $120,000 on the last game. The Big One. Come on! Are you a bookmaker, or fucking what?

I’m almost expecting to hear something like this in the speech on Tuesday. The vibe is desperate denial and psychotic rationalization as an antidote to panic.  So much has already been lost, the only hope for the doomed gambler is to keep doubling the bet as far as he can push his credit.

There are quite a few other themes in the movie that are echoed by personalities involved in current events, but the paradigm of gambling addiction is the one that resonates most strongly.

Well, a movie is one thing and reality is quite another to be sure.  But the plot of Bad Lieutenant sure does provide an interesting context to keep in mind.  Well, truth is stranger than fiction really…

In the screenplay (slightly different from the version of the movie I saw on DVD), the lieutenant’s credit is way overextended at this point, and rational behavior is no longer part of the playbook…

The PHONE RINGS. LT is seriously startled. Then he realizes who it may be. He slowly answers the phone.
LT can hardly speak. He is NUDE, and communicating from another world syllable by syllable.

LT (into the phone)

All right, cop. I want my money.

It’s still my money. If you want to have a chance at any part of it, shithead, you will take my $120,000 and bet on tomorrow’s game.

What about the money you owe me on yesterday’s game?

Fuck yesterday’s game. The World Series is seven games not six. Put in my bet.

Let me think about it.

There’s nothing to think about. Either you put in my bet or you ain’t getting nothing.


LARGE (lethal)
Oh, really?

Yeah, really. I’m no fucking asshole, man. I’m a fucking cop!

OK, cop. I want you to give yourself and your friends on the force a message. Tell them I’ve got my own reasons to be very interested in whomever did the job on the nuns. I’ll double the Church reward if you bring those punks direct to me. 100 G cash. Get it?

LT absorbs this, then bursts out.

Fuck the nuns, man! I’m talking about Strawberry! Is the bet down?

LARGE takes a moment.

Here’s the deal: You meet me tonight across from the Garden. 33rd & 8th. At the beginning of the Ninth Inning. We’ll listen to the end of the game together. You bring your cash, I’ll bring mine.

Yeah, sucker. You better be there!


Can you believe the nerve of this fucking guy? He kills people for fun, and then, he puts up 100 G to bring in some guys who raped a nun. What a sick fuck. Man…


A wiseguy. Paying 100 Grand for the rapists if I turn then over direct to him.

ARIANE’S eyes light up.

But you could do it, baby. We could use the bread…

You mean you could use it.

ARIANE SHRUGS, waves his dig aside.

LT leaps up. He’s on a manic roll. Conceives an insanely captivating, impossible idea. As he speaks, he speeds more and more until he seems to be reciting a rapid-fire tongue twister perfect.

I got it, man! I will find those kids. And I’ll get the 50 G from the Church! Then the kids’ll go to jail. I’ll be in charge, of course. After a little while, I’ll break the fuckers out — and I’ll turn them in to shithead I was just talking to. And pick up his 100 G. No. I’ll hit him up for 200 G. Or 250 G. l can do it — ’cause I’ve got the kids. Then, of course, there’s the 180 G I’m gonna pick up on the Game tonight — when the Strawberries win!

“The Strawberries”?

The Mets. So anyway, chalk up another 180 G for the Game. Jesus Christ! That’s almost half a million dollars. Ariane! Wait. That’s not good enough, I’ll ask the shithead for 280 G for the kids. Then it’ll be a perfect 500 thousand. Yeah. Perfect. 280 G for the kids. Yeah, it’s good I prepared, or I wouldn’t have thought to —

ARIANE has been grooving on it until now. She sees a problem they’ve overlooked.

ARIANE (cuts in)
How come all those guys who’re looking to get 50 from the Church haven’t come up with shit? You got some kinda inside track?

LT (nods — dead serious)
I’m a Catholic.

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