Sodom here is the New York City of blood-splattered car hijacks and crack dens. Drugs, alcohol, spiralling debt and religious visitations are sending an NYPD cop off the rails.
Harvey Keitel – the nameless lieutenant who does as much stealing, drugging and dealing as the creeps he busts – is first seen snorting coke in his car just moments after dropping his kids off at school, a crucifix dangling from his rear-view mirror.
Placing a huge bet on a baseball game (Mets vs Dodgers), and hunting the neighbourhood thugs who have raped a young nun in a Lower East Side church, the Lieutenant hopes for a final chance of redemption.
The problem is that the nun (beautifully played by former Elite model Frankie Thorn) has forgiven her two Hispanic attackers who desecrated the altar and lacerated the nun’s vagina and refuses to name them, even though they are known to her – which sends him reeling into a serious crisis of faith.
Her simple act of grace throws the depravity of his world into sharp relief, leaving him to come crawling back to the church and contend for his eternal soul.
The vengeful Lieutenant performs his own act of desecration. He pulls over two teen girls (Bianca Bakiia and Eddie Daniels) who’ve sneaked out for the night in their daddy’s car with some grass.
Terrified of being turned in, they submit to a grotesque sexual pantomime. “Show me your ass,” he says to the passenger, who kneels on the front seat.
To the driver, he says, “Show me how you suck a guy’s cock.” Standing outside the car, he watches the girl roll her tongue as he masturbates.
The scene lasts an agonising eight minutes. No clothes are removed and no physical contact is made, yet the obscene horror of exploitation has never been so searingly rendered.
This depiction of one man’s vice-ridden hell is sexually explicit and brutally violent to an extreme degree, but the intention of director Abel Ferrara’s furious walk on the wild side is to shock audiences out of their complacency.
Keitel gives the bravest performance of his career so far as the lapsed Catholic in serious debt and even worse moral and ethical chaos.
When the Lieutenant finally tries to redeem himself through goodness, the act comes so unnaturally to him that he howls like a wounded animal.
Avoid Werner Herzog’s half-arsed 2009 half-remake, half-spinoff with Nicolas Cage and a bunch of random iguanas.