Vital Signs

Saintly Thugs

Reservoir Dogs
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Released by Miramax Films

The Bad Lieutenant
Produced by Edward Pressman
Written by Abel Ferrara and Zoe Lund
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Released by Aries Films

The way the camera turns an actor's body into an objet d'art is wonderful. Some faces—Bogart's, for instance, or Cooper's, or Wayne's—can be maps of experience, the topography of those weathered lines and architectural planes suggesting a richness of emotional history that endows any routine scene with depth and dimension. Harvey Keitel's is such a body and such a face, as the extraordinary weekend I've just spent with two of his films makes abundantly clear. There is a peasant crudeness to the nose and the bones of the brow, but the mouth, surprisingly delicate, is at certain angles almost beautiful. Bogie, too, had that hint of femininity around the mouth (the slight lisp helped) and those sad, hooded eyes that made a roughhewn physiognomy fascinating, not altogether predictable, and therefore dramatic.

Keitel can bring to his portrayal of thugs, then, an implicit but nonetheless powerful suggestion that the thuggishness isn't all of it and that his cop or his robber isn't merely a villain. And, after all, who is altogether worthless, absolutely...

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