Harvey Keitel has rarely been the lead, it does not matter, because he dominates the film with his performance. He is one of those actors, no matter how small the role, we cannot shake because he brings such intensity to each part. Beloved by his fellow actors, widely respected by his directors he is among the most gifted actors in the business. Powerfully built, his stocky frame fills the screen when he comes on, all eyes go to home. Incredibly, Harvey Keitel still does not have an Oscar, which, frankly he should have had quite some time ago.
He has not ever fared well in studio fare, failing miserably in Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976) and from that point on choosing his roles cautiously, happiest within the independent world. It seems there, he is free to cut loose with his art, not hampered by the demands of the studio. Here is the list of top 10 Harvey Keitel movies that showcase his immense acting talent.
1. Bad Lieutenant (1992)
As a crooked cop, the actor is astonishing, exploring the depths of absolute despair in a powerful, sometimes frightening performance. Walked the Edge between madness and sanity, the actor dares to go further than he ever has before. In fact he goes further than most actors ever have. A drug addicted, embezzling, gambling addict, the Lieutenant, never named is a walking horror show of a human being. When a nun is raped and refuses to name her attackers, he tracks them down, hallucinating a vision of Jesus Christ. An electrifying, naked piece of acting.
2. The Piano (1993)
In Jane Campions haunting masterpiece, the actor is Banes, foreman in a jungle plantation who takes possession of a mute woman’s precious piano. Having hauled the instrument from Scotland to New Zealand, she is enraged when he trades it for a parcel of land. But Banes has a plan, to trade the piano back to her for favours. Entering into a passionate affair with her, Banes finds himself and allows her to find her voice. Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin won Oscars, Keitel was deserving of at least a nomination for supporting actor.
3. Taxi Driver (1976)
Jittering, coked up, standing on his step pimping out a twelve-year-old girl, Sport is the sort of man we despise. But Keitel portrays him with such jovial good humour we cannot take our eyes off him. Even when manipulating Iris, his child prostitute with promises of love, we cannot look away, knowing he is exploiting a child, yet we see why she wants to be near him, charismatic, he is remarkable. Powerfully built, fearless until gunned down in the streets, the actor was a revelation.
4. Bugsy (1991)
Keitel was excellent here earning his only Oscar nomination as gangster Mickey Cohen, who in thirties LA did not fear Bugsy Seigel, but was quick to respect him. After stealing from the crazed gangster, Cohen comes to work for him, making millions for Seigel, most of which goes into his Flamingo Hotel in Vegas. Loyal, almost to a fault, Cohen understands Seigel, shares his dream to a point but does not, with reason trust Virginia Hill Bugsy’s girl. Powerful, quiet forceful from Keitel.