I saw some films.
Caan vs. Keitel. The 70s vs. the 90s, not quite a twenty year spread. Our protagonists have problems. They’re gambling addicts and while Caan has a few redeemable qualities, he’s actually a literature lecturer as opposed to a dirty, drug addicted and wholly narcissistic cop (the times could not be more ripe for this portrayal) the decline is much the same. If you can still want to gamble after taking in these tales of heartache and misery you’re a thick-skinned creature. The James Caan eyebrow is in full use in this tale (Lee Majors lifted it for his acting), as he gets deep into debt, borrows heartily from mother and girlfriend an plays that out to get even deeper into debt with the criminal element. We also get to see that Caan could play basketball, he even palms the ball a bit. Harvey on the other hand just smokes a lot of crack, but does have the body of an Adonis.
The Gambler also has a terrific backing cast, from Paul Sorvino to Hutton and even a tiny role for James Woods. Burt Young also plays a very believable enforcer, tearing up an apartment while a woman screams, and finding her son and beating him to a pulp. Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) has a small part late in the film as well. I had not noticed before that Fargas has a mug much like Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Keitel’s role is much more disturbing, as we join him in the middle of his frustrating and monstrous decline. He’s called out to look over a pair of girls shot in the head, and within seconds is arguing about baseball and how you know the seven game tournament will be played in full because the advertisers want it that way. So while he’s calling the situation a scam he still doubles down on his betting and keeps pulling on crack pipe. One can’t imagine many missed takes for this film. It would be nice to see Keitel in a comic role to follow up this mayhem and moaning.
We get a tiny bit of philosophy out of Caan’s Axel character about the thrill of the unknown, but in the end holding on to his face, nearly removed by a hooker, the little grin he gives himself in the reflection cannot be taken as victory. He got lucky, he fixed a game using one of his basketball star students to pay off the worst of his debts, but you can tell he’s not going to be done, and worse is still on the horizon. Meanwhile he’s thoroughly disappointed his lady, Hutton, and that definitely seems like a sad situation.
Incidentally, he mentions his 3000 dollars/month for teaching at the college. It is interesting that as a non-tenure track lecturer 45 years later, this is what higher ed facilities would like to pay you each semester. Of course, if you can land one of the dwindling full professorships you will earn the comparable salary. More and more however schools are looking for ways to minimize that outflow, often rooking grad students into doing the job for nearly nothing!
Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant has little chance of growing out of his death spiral. He torments a pair of young women driving without a license with police red tape if they don’t show off their bodies while he masturbates. For this sequence alone it’s hard to forget the horror of this mess. His last big case is locating a pair of druggies, as much by luck as anything, who raped a young nun in a church. He frees them as he was told by the nun that they are forgiven. Shockingly, he gives them a chance he himself does not have and perhaps their freedom represents his soul’s poverty.
I had forgotten the film opens with him telling his kids to tell their aunt to get the F out of the bathroom so they can get ready for school. This monster has kids, who kiss him goodbye.
Both these films run free on Prime (usa) and represent some dark aspects of depravity that make for some difficult entertainment.