Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 112 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant
Sidney Lumet is not a man you’d expect to direct a dark psychological drama set in the north of England but The Offence is in many ways one his most brilliant films. Sean Connery plays a hard case veteran detective whose most recent case has finally pushed him past his breaking point. What follows is a dark and disturbing exploration of a scarred and tormented psyche. Connery is superb in a role that shoulders most of the drama and together with Lumet’s gritty direction they slowly reel the audience into that psyche resulting in a fascinating yet deeply uncomfortable experience.
Rating: The Good – 84.4 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 167 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy
Sidney Lumet’s second instalment in his unofficial trilogy on NYPD corruption is his most excavating and downbeat – and that’s saying something given the first was Serpico! Treat Williams stars as a narcotics detective who volunteers to help a task force take down a litany of crooked cops by wearing a wire and acting as general go between. The only condition: they overlook any wrongdoing perpetrated by him and his partners. However, after the initial adrenaline rush, he starts to see the toll his work is taking on his family and partners and ultimately his own wellbeing. Things get worse when the federal government take over and draw him into a seemingly endless series of cases culminating in the prosecution of his old partners.
Prince of the City is a dark and pensive thriller that almost incidentally seems to serve up some of the best cop to cop drama this side of the French Connection. The gritty one-on-ones, the back-of-diner meets, the greasing of stoolies all reek of so much grimy reality that the audience would be forgiven for feeling like they were the ones putting themselves in the crosshairs. With so much wiretapping going on, it gets to feel like we ourselves are listening in on the dirty deals, the hits, and the extortion (a device Lumet had used before in The Anderson Tapes), where every conversation is a lesson in the actuality of crime. Shooting the movie in much the same style as he did with Serpico, Lumet uses his flat palette of colours to starkly enhance the inward loneliness of his central character’s existence. And armed with such material, Williams is stunning, the perfect embodiment of anxious inertia and frenzied exhaustion. Among others, Lindsey Crouse as his wife and Jerry Orbach as his partner pitch in with some terrific supporting turns but this is Williams’ vehicle from start to finish.
At over two and a half hours long, this one requires much investment but even a moderate love for the great crime dramas of the 70’s & 80’s will elicit that naturally. That it feels like a slog for the audience (albeit a welcomed one) is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement, however, for it mirrors profoundly the tortured commitment of his central protagonist.
Sidney Lumet’s second collaboration with Sean Connery was for this inspired & subtly satirical story of surveillance, perception, & a recently paroled thief’s last big job. Connery is that thief and he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself in what must be one of his best roles. His character is proud and tough but generally good-hearted and you can’t help but weight in behind his optimism and certainty that he’s masterminded the perfect heist. The team he assembles are just as interesting with Christopher Walken’s electronics expert & Martin Balsam’s camped up merchandise valuer being the picks of the bunch.
The Anderson Tapes is imbued with that peculiar 1970’s paranoid vibe but there’s a much more light-hearted, satirical, and even comical sentiment insinuated into the narrative and in particular into those surveillance sequences which recurrently punctuate it. It makes for a highly original movie and one that has really been under-appreciated in terms of the subtle undertones Lumet and co. bring to the party.
Sidney Lumet must have felt that having made what is generally regarded as one of the best “court-room” dramas in history without shooting more than one scene inside the courtroom (12 Angry Men) that he was obliged to, at some point, make a great courtroom drama where much of the dramatic punch was actually delivered in a courtroom. Mission accomplished. Paul Newman stars as the washed up alcoholic ambulance chaser Frank Galvin who sees an opportunity for redemption in a malpractice case which nobody thinks he can win. Lumet sets a remarkably slow but immensely arresting pace throughout this film and in doing so, he imbues the drama with all shades of theme, tone, and meaning to fully convey the sense and weight of Galvin’s desperate life. Newman was quite simply never better and he gives one of the purest acting performances the medium has offered in its long history. With every word, look, and movement we see a depth of decay and self-loathing constantly threatening to consume him but staved off by the one thing that is bolstering them: his innate decency. Jack Warden is, as always, pitch perfect in support as Galvin’s old mentor and James Mason and Milo O’Sea do their utmost in helping to sound out some of the film’s more menacing tones. The Verdict is as satisfying a film as you’ll see which is a feat in itself given it tells an ostensibly depressing story. But it’s to Newman and Lumet’s credit that they not only root out the humanity in this dark tale but also shine such an honest light on it.
Rating: The Good – 87.8 Genre: Drama, Satire Duration: 121 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall
Surely one of the most complete and effective satires, Network is a delicious take on the business of television programming, human relationships, and how both feed and feed off the impartial narratives that so many shows are built around. Peter Finch stars as the disturbed news anchor who upon hearing that he’s been fired launches an attack on his network live on air. So good are the ratings that the executives (an emotionally vacant yet ruthless Faye Dunaway and an equally ambitious Robert Duvall) order head of the news division William Holden to build a show around his deteriorating friend’s rantings. The script is pure gold with some of cinema’s most subtly cutting and scathing commentary threaded throughout. The characters are all in different ways reflections of the greed and selfishness of the modern world and are as good as the actors inhabiting them. The film is genuinely hilarious with Finch’s outbursts being the highlights. Lumet’s delicate touch is all over this and it is he who allows Paddy Chayefsky’s searing script to come to life in as stimulating a fashion as it does. Watch out for Ned Beatty’s thunderous cameo which ultimately more than anything else sets the tone for this cinematic monument.
Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: Crime Duration: 132 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Armand Assante
Sidney Lumet’s gritty adaptation of Edwin Torres’ novel is a criminally unrecognised tour de force of acting, screen writing, story, and characterisation. Nick Nolte plays an old school hard-as-nails lieutenant who is been investigated for murder by a hot shot new assistant district attorney (Timothy Hutton) in a case involving Italian American and Puerto Rican organised crime. Hutton is more than decent as the naive idealist but he is helped by slew of charismatic performers such as Armand Assante, Luis Guzman, and Charles S. Dutton. Nolte, on the other hand, blows everyone off the screen as one of cinema’s most intimidating bad guys. We know all about Lumet’s crime drama credentials and while a little more flashy that Serpico or the Prince of the City, Q & A can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with them as a fantastic trilogy of corruption in the New York police department. There is a weakness unfortunately in the form of the love interest. Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) is clearly out of her depth and given her unconvincing sub-plot one wonders if it was simply a vehicle to get her into the film.
Rating: The Good – 85.4 Genre: Crime Duration: 130 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe
There are many great things that can be said about this film but most important is that Al Pacino’s portrayal of Frank Serpico, a real life NYPD police officer who exposed the endemic corruption in his department, is one of the truly brilliant cinematic turns. Few actors can say so much with their eyes as Pacino can and as the film opens we zone right in on them. From that point on, we belong to Pacino and to almost an equal extent his greatest collaborator, the legendary Sidney Lumet whose iron hand in a velvet glove unerringly carries the slow burning story through to its 130th minute.
Serpico’s tale is an extraordinary one even in these more cynical times. That such a prestigious and massive police department could be running such systematic rackets was scarcely believable and that Serpico continually put himself on the line by refusing to take any money was just as movie-worthy. In retrospect, it seems as if nobody else could’ve conveyed the proper depths to this man as Pacino did. As he did in The Godfather, he shows us how an innocent and somewhat naive young man can be turned into a harshly cynical individual through circumstance. Perhaps his most significant achievement is how he portrayed the increasing fear that Serpico was living with from day to day and the eroding effect that had on not just the detective’s personality but his spirit. It’s an intuitive but awesomely contemplative piece of acting from one cinema’s greatest ever performers and it shows in depth the subtle power that he yielded in his heyday. Ever confident in Pacino’s ability to hold court, Lumet raises the stakes by populating the supporting cast with some real talent with John Randolph, Tony Roberts, and Jack Kehoe contributing strongly.
Serpico is one of those 70’s crime classics that screams pedigree. Like many of those classics, it captures the feelings and tones of the time and place in which it is set wonderfully. Lumet’s ability to get the the heart of his environment is at its most finely honed here and of all his films, Serpico is probably his most starkly beautiful. But within that, there’s everything else you could want from a crime classic too. There’s gritty action, there’s full-tilt drama, and there’s a compelling tension held throughout. And to put a real crown on things, there’s also Mikis Theodorakis’ heart-rendering score which on its own seems to tell the magnificent but lonely story of one brave man against the odds.
“You’re like everybody else. You think too much and get mixed up.” Few films have managed to get to the truth of things like 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Inherit the Wind and it’s a shame those few exceptions are all from over half a century ago. The premise is well known now: twelve white male jurors all sitting in a sweaty room debating whether a young man from the wrong side of the tracks is guilty of killing his father. Writer Reginald Rose and a 34 year old Sidney Lumet cleverly use the context to expose the varied prejudices which humans bring to bear on the world and the result is an insightful analysis of truth, perception, and moral fortitude. Henry Fonda is exquisite as the brave conscience of the twelve but there isn’t one of them (Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, and Martin Balsam especially) who doesn’t pull out all the stops.
12 Angry Men is a testament to the power of simplicity when delivered with clear purpose. The dialogue is not fancy but rather tailored authentically to the various personalities whether they be straight-talking working class men or more white-collar. They talk exactly like you’d expect their characters to talk and the arguments which unfold do so in an organic and unplanned manner, again exactly how real life informal debates do. That Rose and Lumet manage to peak the drama around the key points and revelations that come from these arguments is no mean feat. In fact, for all the glowing talent in front of the camera and for all the brilliance of Rose’s story and screenplay, the standout performer here is undoubtedly Lumet who quite simply rewrote the directors’ manual with the methods and devices he used to generate and balance the tension as it rises and settles repeatedly throughout the film. Watch how he builds a sense of anticipation particularly in the opening scenes and how he focuses it on the faces of the actors, the knife, the glasses, or Fonda’s simulated limp. Lumet knew how to get the best from his sterling cast and his framing of their faces and actions works flawlessly yet silently to achieve this.
12 Angry Men is a profoundly moving film and deeply arresting. It’s not a pulpit for liberalism or a champion of bleeding heartism. It’s an analysis of both the flaws and strengths of humankind and a piercing one at that. From a purely film-making point of view, it’s not only a lesson in the construction of dramatic tension on screen but it’s damn near the best made drama ever. It’s cinematic gold is what it is.
Rating: The Good – 92.5 Genre: Thriller, War Duration: 112 mins Director: Sidney Lumet Stars: Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver
Sidney Lumet’s powerhouse of a film came out at the same time as Dr Strangelove and given it was about a squadron of US bombers who are accidentally ordered to drop their nuclear payload on Moscow and the frantic attempts of the US military to stop it, it was completely overshadowed by Kubrick’s similarly themed classic. In popularity that is, not quality, definitely not quality. Henry Fonda stars as the US president who must handle the incendiary negotiations with his Soviet counterpart while maintaining his military staff’s perspective on the other telephone line. Walter Matthau is the creepy political scientist who advises the latter to make the most out of the situation and attack all out in the expectation that the communist mindset will self-council surrender.
Unique, intensely disturbing, and saturated with nervous authenticity, Fail-Safe is a remarkable piece of work in every respect. The drama is constantly switching between the White House, the Pentagon, the lead bomber, and its airforce base but at all times the transitions are seamless. Fonda is as usual terrific in a role of authority while Matthau seems to relish the darker role. However, given the broad scope to the drama, there’s a well rounded cast of support players such as Dan O’Herlihy who have just as much to do and are, in the main, every bit as impressive. Given the inevitable prevalence of technical jargon, there’s proper depth to Walter Bernstein’s screenplay. The dialogue elegantly balances the philosophical, the emotional, and pragmatic as Eugene Burdick’s story plays out on a number of simultaneously relevant dimensions. As the insanity of what we are seeing spirals into ever darkening territory, the scenario ironically begins to feel more and more real.
Fail-Safe is Lumet at his imperious best reflecting all the innovation that marked The Hill, The Anderson Tapes, and Network and the flawless construction which marked 12 Angry Men, Serpico, and The Verdict. The opening and final sequences in particular are ingeniously conceived and in many ways they set the tone to Fail-Safe as clinically as Kubrick’s opening and closing sequences did to Dr Strangelove. On that note, it’s remarkable at how both films parallel each other while being almost completely opposite in tone. In many ways, Fail-Safe is the same story but told and shot from a more sombre point of view which is intriguing in its own right as Kubrick always said that he originally intended to tell his story that way but couldn’t due to the insanity of the entire scenario. Lumet and co. capture that sentiment profoundly right at the moment Fonda’s character glimpses the only solution to his most terrible of dilemmas. For in an insane world, the most rational decision must surely appear to be the most irrational. In essence, they pulled off what Kubrick felt was impossible.