Tag Archives: Sidney Lumet

Serpico (1973, Sidney Lumet)

There’s a strange disconnect between director Lumet and actor Al Pacino on Serpico. The film, at least in how Pacino plays it, is a character study. Yes, it’s a character study of someone in a great deal of transition–Pacino’s cop, over twelve rather poorly paced years, goes from idealism to resignation at the corruption he encounters–but it’s still a character study. Pacino’s performance is all about how his character is changing. It’s an amazing performance.

But Lumet presents Serpico as something of a shortened epic. It runs just over two hours, which really isn’t enough for the epic study of political machinations and indifference, especially not since the first hour deals with Pacino becoming a hippie. The hippie stuff is practically enough for its own movie and is where Lumet seems to want to go with that character study feel.

And the first half has this sweeping music from Mikis Theodorakis, sometimes overwhelming the dialogue. The second half, when Serpico is all about the police corruption stuff (and it does move better in this half), is missing the music. It’s missing the lyricism. Instead, it’s all grit, which Lumet can do and do well–though Arthur J. Ornitz’s outdoor photography is nowhere near as good as his indoor–but there’s nothing to it. Pacino’s still going through this transformation, but no one else is along for the ride.

Excellent supporting turns from Barbara Eda-Young, John Randolph, Tony Roberts.

The film just doesn’t live up to Pacino’s performance.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler, based on the book by Peter Maas; director of photography, Arthur J. Ornitz; edited by Richard Marks and Dede Allen; music by Mikis Theodorakis; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Serpico), John Randolph (Sidney Green), Jack Kehoe (Tom Keough), Biff McGuire (Captain McClain), Barbara Eda-Young (Laurie), Cornelia Sharpe (Leslie) and Tony Roberts (Bob Blair).


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Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)

Besides Al Pacino, there are other actors in Dog Day Afternoon. Some of them give fantastic performances too. But, even with those fantastic performances, every time Pacino is alone on screen, whether closeup or not, monologue or not, it feels like there’s no one else in the film besides him. He doesn’t command it or walk away with it… the film’s his performance and his performance is the film, right down to the last scene.

Some of the other particularly fantastic performances are, in no particular order, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Charles Durning and Chris Sarandon. Okay, maybe I saved Sarandon for last so I don’t forget to mention the specifics. I had no idea it was Sarandon in the film. Never would I have imaged he could have given such a good performance (it was his first major film work).

Cazale’s sturdy. He’s great without being exceptional–the performance isn’t a surprise. Pacino, as good as he can be, is still a surprise here. He’s not in a movie star role and Pacino almost always does those (or has been since Dog Day); I’d forgotten the greatness of his performance here. It’s been… maybe fifteen years since I last saw the film. Since then, he’s been in a lot of lousy movies to cloud my memory.

I think this time is the first I’ve seen Dog Day Afternoon in its original aspect ratio. Lumet’s direction is so sublimely perfect, I can’t believe he doesn’t have more admirers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Frank Pierson, based on the Life magazine article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Dede Allen; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Sonny Wortzik), John Cazale (Sal), Charles Durning (Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti), Chris Sarandon (Leon Shermer), Sully Boyar (Mulvaney), Penelope Allen (Sylvia), James Broderick (Sheldon), Carol Kane (Jenny), Beulah Garrick (Margaret), Sandra Kazan (Deborah), Marcia Jean Kurtz (Miriam), Amy Levitt (Maria), John Marriott (Howard), Estelle Omens (Edna), Gary Springer (Stevie) and Lance Henriksen (Murphy).


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The Morning After (1986, Sidney Lumet)

The Morning After is an awkward combination of thriller and adult drama. As a thriller, with Paul Chihara’s enthusiastic and bombastic score, it’s frequently annoying. Jane Fonda can scrub a crime scene of every thread of evidence, but the simple things–like dropping a succeeding lie or leaving all her personal belongings for the police to find–escape her. Lumet’s direction, which makes full use of the frame in a somewhat unique three dimensional manner (Fonda hides on the right, out of sight from the pursuer on the left or hiding behind truck on the lower right, unseen by the pursuers above her), is competent while unsuccessful. It can’t surmount the script’s absurdities or that awful music.

There’s also the matter of the frequent extreme long shots, featuring Fonda walking from one side of the frame to the other, usually in front of a building. Those I can’t even begin to understand.

The adult drama angle of the film, alcoholic failed starlet Fonda finds the hint of a human connection with friendly bigot (he’s friendly in his bigotry) Jeff Bridges, works considerably better. Lumet’s direction of those scenes, when they aren’t doubling for suspense, is quite good and rather effective. I spent a lot of The Morning After marveling at Fonda’s ability to overcome the material. She and Bridges have a decent chemistry, but her drunk scenes are bleak and wonderful. One of the few things the script gets right is its detail to her (drinking-related) behaviors and the logic she operates under.

The script’s major conceptual problem (besides the wrong-headed–it’s got that L.A. corruption angle too–cobbling of two incompatible ideas) has to do with the script’s ambitions. The Morning After is practically a concept film–the opening titles only credit three actors, Fonda, Bridges and Raul Julia, and they aren’t kidding. It’s practically a stage play. It might even work better as a stage play, as the constraints would make it more interesting. But as a thriller, the constraints just make it weird. While the cops are after Fonda and she’s worried she’s a killer or there’s a killer after her, she takes the time to put on make-up and flirt with Bridges. The movie wastes about eleven minutes on this scene, which is only there for developing that adult drama aspect.

Another big problem is understanding what Fonda’s doing. The viewer can’t understand what she’s thinking because he or she is supposed to be considering the possibility Fonda killed someone, but it frequently gets to the point where her actions are baffling. Fonda’s character is a clumsy drunk; it’s always clear when she’s been drinking. So her relatively sober actions tend to make less sense than her drunk ones. A strange dichotomy.

But it’s worth watching for Fonda’s performance, even if Bridges is just along for the ride and Julia can’t make his poorly written character work. Fonda gets through all the absurdity, making it all palatable, and comes out great at the–similarly goofy–ending.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by James Cresson; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Joel Goodman; music by Paul Chihara; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Alex Sternbergen), Jeff Bridges (Turner Kendall), Raul Julia (Joaquin Manero), Diane Salinger (Isabel Harding), Richard Foronjy (Sergeant Greenbaum), Geoffrey Scott (Bobby Korshack), James ‘Gypsy’ Haake (Frankie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Red) and Don Hood (Hurley).


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Equus (1977, Sidney Lumet)

The inevitable unpleasantness in Equus, which is promised from the second or third scene, manages to be more horrifying than I expected. At the beginning of the film, it’s possible to steel oneself for it, but by the end, it becomes a lot more like the sensation of striking one finger against the other. At the beginning, the viewer knows the finger is going to be struck, by the end, he or she is feeling it on both. Peter Firth’s amazing performance–and Firth really is amazing–contributes, but it’s also the script and the direction. The conclusion–Equus is described all over as a mystery, but it really isn’t: once the father makes his opaque confession, it’s all very predictable. And it played out exactly like it figured, but it was still exceptionally effective. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sidney Lumet use violence in this way before.

But the end of the film isn’t that inescapable event. The event drowns the viewer, so he or she is gasping for air during the ending, more than a little distracted. And Equus‘s end is an end to a different film. A shorter one, focusing on Richard Burton. Regardless of Firth’s acting accomplishments here, his character isn’t particularly compelling. Obscured, he’s interesting. Even in the therapy scenes–which look, at times, enough like Ordinary People I wonder how many times Redford saw this one–he’s somewhat interesting. But Lumet does these flashbacks–with Firth playing the character at every age. It’s effective, but distracting from the main force of the film–Burton.

With his unbecoming, unkept hair and his tired face–and with Lumet shooting his bald spot every chance he gets–Burton is champion. As the psychiatrist, encumbered with an empty, unhappy life of his own passive design, Burton pulls off the impossible. He’s got six or seven scenes–from the play’s staging, obviously–speaking directly to the camera. This film is Burton’s, Burton’s story, Burton’s to succeed or fail with. And his performance is just wonderful. It’s so good, it’s worth rewinding to watch a speech again.

Lumet goes for a haunting close to Equus and it kind of works. It works well enough to smooth over the problems with Firth’s character’s close (given how much time’s spent on him, he gets the short end). The music–and the editing–and Lumet’s really odd camera angles for this one–all contribute. The supporting cast, particularly Colin Blakely and Joan Plowright, are great. Given Shaffer’s adapted his own play, odds were never good for a proper filmic refocusing, but it doesn’t matter. Even with the obese script, Burton and Firth and Lumet are all in top form… Burton better than.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Peter Shaffer, based on his play; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; production designer, Tony Walton; produced by Elliot Kastner and Lester Persky; released by United Artists.

Starring Richard Burton (Martin Dysart), Peter Firth (Alan Strang), Colin Blakely (Frank Strang), Joan Plowright (Dora Strang), Harry Andrews (Harry Dalton), Eileen Atkins (Hesther Saloman), Jenny Agutter (Jill Mason) and Kate Reid (Margaret Dysart).


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