Sidney Lumet’s awkward examination of political corruption and race in New York City hits some bumps it shouldn’t. One of the major problems–because the film, after all the minor problems, only has two major problems–is the ending. Lumet has a perfectly well-intentioned ending, but he doesn’t quite get it. There’s not enough groundwork for it in the film itself, just a few scenes and they really don’t add up to what the ending needs. The second major problem is the music by Rubén Blades. Not the score, the score is actually all right. But Blades–and Lumet, because I don’t see Blades listed as the producer or the executive–has a theme song for Q & A. Not surprisingly (the score is actually rather sparse and well-used throughout, mostly Lumet relies on a beautiful sound design, wind, rain and traffic), there’s no soundtrack release, but if there had been, I really think it would have been listed as “Don’t Double-Cross the Ones You Love (Theme to Q & A).” It’s a dreadful mistake.
The minor mistakes thrive. While Nick Nolte gives a scary performance as a dirty, bigoted cop, all he’s doing is giving a performance as a dirty, bigoted cop. He put on a bunch of weight for the role, but the weight doesn’t act for him. Timothy Hutton’s pretty good as a wide-eyed idealist, even maintains a hint of an Irish accent throughout, but the movie’s not enough about him. It starts about him, then it splits between Nolte and Armand Assante. Whereas Hutton and Assante make an interesting juxtaposition (with Jenny Lumet forming a love triangle), because of all the energy put into following Nolte, the juxtaposition never comes through. It gets hinted at, but never explored.
Assante’s performance is fantastic, the kind of flashy but substantive performance he should get credit for achieving. As a director’s daughter acting in a mob movie, Lumet does a really good job. Her character’s a lot more complicated than the movie ever gets around to examining, another mistake. The supporting cast is all excellent. Charles S. Dutton and Luis Guzmán, both great and they work beautifully together. But they get left out when the movie balloons too. As elder statesmen of varying morality but similar weariness, both Patrick O’Neal and Lee Richardson are good.
Lumet lets Q & A get way too big without ever making it absorbing. It’s a 132 minutes and it feels like them. It’s never mundane, it’s never boring, but the lack of a central protagonist and the mishmash of theses encourage detachment in the viewer, which is rather unfortunate. Q & A has all the ingredients for excellence and it’s very good; the missteps–particularly not getting the ending just right–hurt it.