His closest to a hit, the very violent, very sexual Bad Lieutenant, did not lure him into anything like a mainstream career. (The recent New Rose Hotel—taken from a William Gibson story—is his fullest collapse into the ludicrous extreme that has always beckoned.) But the terminal self-abuse of Bad Lieutenant, plus the dedication of that mode’s master, Harvey Keitel, was certainly disturbing (as well as very clever—witness the inspired but invented baseball series in the background).
It seems a little too self-aware, a little too desperate to be true. Whereas in other films Ferrara has been more fully immersed, so that one feels less urge to question the gloomy religiousness or the seething depression. Ms. 45, done for peanuts, is a deserved classic.
King of New York is a genuine cult favorite, and an early sign of the mad grace in Christopher Walken. The Addiction is brilliant, with a great performance by Lili Taylor. But The Funeral is his best work—full of the comic, tragic reach of family, a Sopranos for the madhouse.