The movie depicts depravity mostly, with one important bright spot, which is a nun's forgiveness of two young men who raped her. That's handled very well. A cop has fallen into some very bad habits, and fallen away from his Catholic background. For all his sinning, he doesn't seem to be enjoying it much. He has two nice boys, but his attention is on his drug life and his betting. The redemption of the bad cop will be another bright spot.
The movie is quite indecent, that is, its depictions of indecency rub off on the picture itself. Ferrara's production code is at work following his creative code. Don't watch it if you don't want to see some indecent stuff. My previous movie, 52 Pick-Up also had a fair amount of indecent stuff, because the bad guys were involved in the porn business. It is a fairly common neo-noir practice to hold back very little and to shock.
The movie is a sad spectacle of a man's and cop's life in a very bad way. He does an act of contrition, but it's too late for his human life. He has already gone too far into inane betting with the mob and cheating his fellow cops via betting. Theologically or psychologically, before he finally gets his act together, he's angry at God for not stepping in to overcome his human weakness, but grace doesn't operate in exactly that way. Only after his intense prayer and a vision does he find some will power or saving grace. Drugs, sex and gambling have been addictions he fell into, the fall being greased by having a cop's power. The vision scene is a strong one, and more could be said about what it means. The ending doesn't feel cynical to me, which is that after his act of forgiveness, he goes to his reward by a Mafia assassination. It doesn't feel like punishment either. I think Ferrara wanted us to feel that it was a crucifixion. This is presaged by an emphasis on communion with the body of Christ and with a visual of Keitel nude in a Christly pose. As fallen as Keitel's cop is, he does not engage in physically violent acts against others; he doesn't shoot anyone or hold anyone up. He browbeats some girls at one point but then slinks off.
So, how does this all add up? It's an honest attempt to grapple with difficult religious issues, sins and temptations wrapped into a tawdry package. Does the story have a moral? There is no simple moral. Rather, we are told implicitly that God's relationship to each of us is something that's worked out case by case, a step at a time, and the movie shows some cases. The movie is meant to be uplifting.
Keitel gives a good performance, with one exception, which is a Burt Young wail. The movie itself gets better with repeat viewing, but it still feels murky and muddy, like it's missing opportunities. The emphasis on the ball game and betting seems excessive and diverting. It's like a song being sung with the pitch and rhythm being a bit off. Ferrara movies do that to me. I keep feeling that he's not hitting the mark.