Corrupt (99 minutes) 1984/Rated R – starring Harvey Keitel, John Lydon, Nicole Garcia, Leonard Mann, Carla Romanelli, Sylvia Sidney. Directed by Roberto Faenza. Originally released through Thorn/EMI Home Video.
In 1992, actor Harvey Keitel starred in an over-the-top performance as a New York detective who spirals into chaos and degradation when he investigates the rape of a nun. Hopped up on drugs, procuring free services from hookers, planting evidence on innocent suspects, he was out of control in the NC-17-rated “Bad Lieutenant.” The movie “Corrupt,” which he acted in almost a decade earlier, was his warm-up to the raucous “Bad Lieutenant” role.
In “Corrupt,” as Lieutenant Fred O’Connor, Keitel has scammed serious money out of his police department and invested it in a posh $400,000 Central Park West apartment. Although unfurnished, he gets to lounge about in its inherent luxury, smoking cigars and playing his country music whenever he wants. Meanwhile, a cop killer is loose amongst the citizens of New York, and it’s Harvey’s job to catch him. Amidst this backdrop, John Lydon invades Keitel’s perfectly corrupt life, and a psychological game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
Lydon, having shed his Johnny Rotten moniker from his Sex Pistols days, had formed Public Image Ltd. in late 1978, although by 1983, this band had already gone through total personnel changes and was on shaky ground. He took time out to star in this gritty independent feature and brought the project a menacing, slightly psychotic undertone, based on his previous exploits in the public eye. As a rich kid who supposedly feels guilty for being wealthy, Lydon’s character has periodically confessed in the past to crimes, such as rape and assault, which he has not committed. He has targeted Keitel, showing up at the Lieutenant’s apartment and claiming that he, Lydon, is the cop killer Keitel is now seeking. Keitel is more concerned that the kid knows about the posh apartment he illegally has leased and doesn’t buy the fact that the kid might just be the killer. Keitel trusses up Lydon, and beats and abuses the kid into telling him all that he’s discovered about Keitel’s schemes. From this launching point, another murder takes place, involving both men, and by the film’s conclusion, role reversals of power have taken a sharp turn.
The entire storyline has a subtle homoerotic dance with S&M undertones which is conveyed when Keitel goes to Lydon’s house and spots bondage photographs prominently displayed in the boy’s bedroom. Keitel starts out very definitely in the “master” role, pummeling and humiliating Lydon, making him eat from a dog bowl. But, then, the two begrudgingly work briefly as partners. Eventually, the roles shift again, and Lydon becomes the dominant and Keitel is his slave. By the end, the macho, hostile Keitel has been effectively rendered powerless. Religious subtext is introduced as well into this environment (as it was in “Bad Lieutenant”), as Lydon appears to be suffering for the sins of the most corrupt cop he could find.
Keitel’s performance in “Corrupt” is actually better modulated and effective than his overwrought and overly-praised work in “Bad Lieutenant.” John Lydon deserves more screen roles if one is to form an opinion of his acting chops solely on this performance. He gives a creepy, calm delivery in his submissive state and becomes appropriately menacing and commanding when he begins ordering Keitel around. It actually appeared as if Keitel was really landing punches on Lydon’s torso and pulling his hair in the film’s very dramatic scenes. No coddled movie-star, stuntman-stand-in, perks for Johnny Rotten!
Since the movie was financed and produced by a mostly-Italian crew, it has the look and feel, unfortunately, of a dubbed foreign film. The Ennio Morricone score is sometimes funky and driven, but oftentimes overblown. Yet, forgive these slight drawbacks, and the viewer will experience an early “Reservoir-Dogs”-kind of effort. This film was released briefly as “Cop Killer” and in a 113-minute version called “Order of Death” (the same name of the novel by Hugh Fleetwood, from which it was adapted). However, it was released to most theaters as “Corrupt” and can currently be found in the $9.99 bins of most mall video stores under that name.
© 2000 Ned Truslow
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