Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Zack Snyder Says Batman Has A "Crisis Of Conscience" In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Plus New Pics Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More Venice 2015 Line-Up: 'Equals' With Kristen Stewart, 'Beasts Of No Nation,' 'The Danish Girl,' More New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' New 'Deadpool' Images, Ryan Reynolds Distances Himself From 'X-Men: Origins' TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More TIFF Images: Emma Watson In 'Colonia,' Brie Larson In 'Room,' Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' And More Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Richard Linklater Frontrunner To Direct 'The Rosie Project' Starring Jennifer Lawrence Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film Watch: Blu-Ray Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron' Plus 11 New Clips From The Film The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances The 10 Best And 5 Worst Tom Cruise Performances Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Watch: New Trailer For 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Blu-ray Release Explores Who Killed The World Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Just For Laughs: 'The Big Lebowski' Live Read With Michael Fassbender & Jennifer Lawrence Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot Union Rep Says Safety Was A Concern On 'The Revenant' Shoot All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More All The Songs In 'Paper Towns' Including Bon Iver, Wilco, Vampire Weekend, Bob Dylan, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More "A Living Hell": 'The Revenant' Is Reportedly $35 Million Over Budget, A Producer Exited The Movie, And More 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns 'Top Of The Lake' Season 2 Starts Shooting This Year, Elisabeth Moss Returns Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time Watch: Video Essay Counts Down The 10 Most Beautiful Movies Of All Time The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" Stephen King Says Wendy In Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "One Of The Most Misogynistic Characters Ever Put On Film" "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie "It Was A Clusterfuck From Day One": 5 Things About Neill Blomkamp's Failed 'Halo' Movie

The Films Of Sidney Lumet: A Retrospective

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 9, 2012 at 11:00AM

13

“The Offence” (1972)
While much of Lumet’s films centered around police dealt with the corruption around them, this curious, minimal entry asked what would happen if an officer was compromised by something from within his own mind. Starring Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson , “The Offence” opens with a slo-mo sequence that would make Zack Snyder proud, with the detective savagely beating and killing a suspect in an interrogation room. The movie then jumps back, and in the first half hour, shows us the events leading up to what we’ve just seen. Johnson and the rest of the department are on the hunt of a serial child molester preying on local children, and after an exhaustive manhunt, they bring in somebody who Johnson and even his colleagues think may be their man -- based not on evidence, but on their gut instinct. Johnson is so determined to get an answer he winds up killing the man. From there the film really only has two more long extended scenes. In one, which nearly grinds the film to a halt, Johnson returns home and gets into a domestic squabble with his wife who wants him to share his dark secrets and feelings with her and when he does, she’s horrified to the point of vomiting. The next, is an interview back at the police station with an investigator tasked with getting Johnson’s complete version of events. Finally, the film closes by jumping back to the talk Johnson had with the suspect and the dark, disturbing explanation for his overreaction is posited. It’s bold, challenging material but it’s ultimately trumped by the time jumping narrative which treats the revelation as a twist, cheating the film of a greater dramatic heft. And while Connery is in great form, the overly talky two-hour picture drags at times and never quite matches the crackling intensity the actor is bringing to the part. An interesting but not entirely rewarding inversion on Lumet’s continued study of law enforcement. [C]

“Serpico" (1973)
When the Antoine Fuqua-directed "Brooklyn's Finest" dropped in 2009, its mix of cops-and-crooks scheming about Brooklyn projects rang with inauthenticity. This writer wonders what Lumet could have done with the same film -- and if "Serpico" is any indication, the late director's touch could have been the defining factor that tipped the scales, producing a true New York-bred film. Utilizing countless locations in early 1970s New York, "Serpico" mostly sticks to the facts of Frank Serpico's true-life story and Pacino completes his meteoric post- 'Godfather' rise with a complex, multi-layered portrayal of a good, but frequently conflicted, cop. "Serpico" is sometimes (and probably rightfully) overshadowed by the next Lumet/Pacino collab "Dog Day Afternoon", but the gritty down-home quality of the film is hard to shake, and harder even to criticize. [A-]


“Murder on the Orient Express" (1974)
The term "they don't make them like that anymore" has become something of a cliche, and it's very rarely used correctly. For something like the Agatha Christie adaptation "Murder on the Orient Express," it's particularly untrue -- the film is deliberately harking back to a glamorous time that never really existed. But it's certainly hard to imagine a collection of stars of this caliber -- Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave and an Oscar-winning Ingrid Bergman, among many others -- being assembled for a picture like this, or indeed any film ever again. Watching Finney, as Christie's most famous creation, Hercule Poirot, poking at the ensemble as he investigates the titular slaying, is the kind of pleasure that it's hard to find on the big-screen these days: no explosions or CGI creations, just great actors sparking off against each other, and beautifully shot throughout by the director. It's feather-light, to be sure, but that's part of the sumptuous joy of it. And if you've somehow managed to avoid knowing the solution, and you go in cold, it'll still keep you guessing to the end. [B+]

“Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)
Lumet was often considered a filmmaker who transcended genres, which is true, but it seems like the sort of compliment that ignores how this spotlighted his greatest trait, which was a mastery of tone. Nowhere is that more evident than this true-crime suspense film, dealing with a momentous bank robbery in 1970’s Brooklyn that evolved into a media-fed hostage standoff. As Sonny, the deluded thief who is quickly in way over his head, Al Pacino gets laughs, but he also fearlessly plunges deep into the psyche of this damaged person, a humane depiction of a man with misplaced passion, oblivious to his own recklessness. Lumet never obscures the time frame of the event, a twelve hour moment in history, but the film is paced so tightly that its tonal shifts don’t feel like directorial flourishes as much as the natural rhythms of real conversation. Amongst the 70s classics, “Dog Day Afternoon,” with its criminal behavior, harsh language and downbeat ending, still feels like one of the most affecting and generous, because Lumet and screenwriter Frank Pierson remain dedicated to telling a story about a crime, and not about criminals. [A]

“Network” (1976)
Generally, we’re not people who demand Oscar recounts or regard award shows as anything other than vehicles for promotion. But perhaps Lumet’s collaboration with Paddy Chayefsky should have triumphed over “Rocky” to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, if only to properly get “Network” in front of the right people. Because, in 2011, “Network” ain’t funny anymore. This scabrous tale of television executives who refashion the news as “infotainment” and turn a veteran anchorman into a false prophet of the boob tube was once a scathing show business satire. Now it seems quaint, particularly in how its depicting a world we’re already familiar with, where TV producers will do anything for a ratings point, where vile current events become prime time appointment viewing, and where ranting fools can gain a pulpit and become respectable at best, celebrities at worst. Life has imitated art. “Network” came true. Horrifying. [A]

This article is related to: Vintage Directors, Feature, Sidney Lumet


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates