Tag Archives: Sidney Lumet

Q & A (1990, Sidney Lumet)

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.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Lumet, based on the novel by Edwin Torres; director of photography, Andrzej Bartkowiak; edited by Richard Cirincione; music by Ruben Blades; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Arnon Milchan and Burtt Harris; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Brennan), Timothy Hutton (Al Reilly), Armand Assante (Bobby Tex), Patrick O’Neal (Kevin Quinn), Lee Richardson (Leo Bloomenfeld), Luis Guzmán (Valentin), Charles S. Dutton (Chappie), Jenny Lumet (Nancy), Paul Calderon (Roger Montalvo), International Chrysis (José Malpica), Dominic Chianese (Larry Pesch), Leonardo Cimino (Nick Petrone) and Fyvush Finkel (Preston Pearlstein).


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Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

Network lost Oscars. It doesn’t really matter what it lost them to, because the absurdity of the Academy Awards is summed up in that one statement. Network lost Oscars.

I’m not sure what shot is Sidney Lumet’s best in the film, because I’m remembering two of them from the last half. These aren’t necessarily the best shots in the film, but they’re memorable because I can’t quite remember ever seeing anything like them before. The first is for Ned Beatty’s big scene. It’s an amazing scene from Beatty, but Lumet’s composition, the lighting scheme, the cuts to Peter Finch, it’s a singular filmic moment. The second, unfortunately in some ways, summarizes the popular half of Network. It’s the network executives sitting around Robert Duvall’s office, deciding what must be done. It’s been about ten years since I’ve seen Network and I don’t know if I passively remembered the resolution or if, in those ten years, I’ve consumed enough media the resolution just became the most logical thing in the world. Lumet makes enough room for six people in his shot and lets the camera sit. Duvall might even walk into the shot. There’s only one close-up I can remember, otherwise Lumet just lets it sit.

The popular half of Network is the one where people remember the lines, the one acclaimed in modernity as a classic of 1970s cinema. Network is–and I’m only going to talk about this aspect for a second–more obviously true today than it was in 1976. The Saudis buying up America, for example, much more pertinent these days than then. The dehumanizing effects of television, much worse today than then… at least then, television wasn’t apathetic to suffering. It had yet to become the idiot box. It’s funny in that sad, tragic way how much acclaim the sound bits from Network get–the lip service. Makes one wonder if those giving the awards (the American Film Institute) watches the film.

The other half of Network is, much like the non-pioneering half of Citizen Kane, forgotten. And it’s, like Kane, the more important one. In Network, it’s the William Holden side. Holden’s performance–which, incredulously, he reportedly got due to The Towering Inferno–is astounding. Network wouldn’t work if any of the cast couldn’t hold with Holden or Finch or Faye Dunaway. Duvall’s part, in the first half, is the sketchiest, just because of the plot, but Duvall holds it and makes it work and it pays off big in the end. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting for less than six minutes. Easily deserved it. The combination of Lumet’s direction and Chayefsky’s script for scenes like Straight’s… it’s truly special filmmaking. Everything else aside, all of Finch’s hysterics aside (as well as the wonderfully absurd scenes, like the terrorists worrying about syndication rights), Network is a quiet film.

I could go on ad nauseam–I have not, for instance, discussed Dunaway’s performance or Chayefsky’ script the editing or the sound design–but it’ll turn into a list. Overanalyzing Network isn’t useful, it’s far too consequential.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; written by Paddy Chayefsky; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Elliott Lawrence; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Howard Gottfried; released by United Artists.

Starring Faye Dunaway (Diane Christenson), William Holden (Max Schumacher), Peter Finch (Howard Beals), Robert Duvall (Frank Hackett), Wesley Addy (Nelson Chaney), Ned Beatty (Arthur Jenson), Darryl Hickman (Bill Herron), Beatrice Straight (Louise Schumacher) and Marlene Warfield (Laureen Hobbs).


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The Hill (1965, Sidney Lumet)

The Hill is quite a few things–Sidney Lumet doing another stage adaptation, almost in real time, a la Twelve Angry Men, a prison drama, a race drama, a military drama, and an example of a decent Sean Connery performance (not a particularly good one, but a decent one). It’s incredibly contrived–desert British prison camp in World War II, new prison officer comes along the same day Connery arrives along with four other men, who aren’t split up. The guards heckle Ossie Davis for being black, get in to with Connery because he struck a superior officer, and tease the soldier who wants to go home to his wife. The other two new prisoners are just there to hang around. Over the present action of the film, a day and a half, one prisoner dies and the entire power structure gets threatened by all these elements brought conveniently together for a hundred and twenty minutes.

A good deal of the film is deceptively good, until it becomes clear the present action is going to take place in that practical real time. Lumet’s direction is fantastic as well. Starting the film, I thought how it’d be funny if it were Connery cast against leading man-type… unfortunately, it is and the film quickly descends into a common (relatively) innocent prisoner against sadistic prison guard, without doing anything more interesting than setting it in the British army.

All of the performances are quite good (except Michael Redgrave, who spends his screen-time looking confused)–Harry Andrews in particular–but when the film goes off track, fitting so many consequential events into such a short period, it’s impossible for it to recover. The screenwriter (who adapted his own play) doesn’t just have a dumb plot, he has incredibly careless dialogue–one of the men says goodbye to Connery and says something about suggesting they’d known each other for a long time… instead of thirty-eight hours or so.

Ossie Davis is the best in the film; he gets the most interesting action after a while–once the script turns Andrews into a caricature, after almost promising he was going to remain a character throughout–and many of Davis’s scenes are a joy to watch. Because Connery is visibly against type, intentionally against type, he doesn’t really have a character to work with. He needs to remain mysterious, to draw attention to himself for not being a leading man. The result is his performance not being as good as it could have been. He has some real potential in a few scenes, but again, the script’s more concerned with being a momentous condemnation of the British military mindset.

By the end, almost everything interesting has been drained from The Hill. Characters are presented, at the beginning, as being this sort of person or that and then later flipped around to get the film to the necessary conclusion. They don’t change, they aren’t revealed to have been deceiving everyone. They just flip. It’s the filmmakers are deceiving the audience, packaging their film as a social message as opposed to a narrative.

I do appreciate the film is without any musical score, but it’s not a surprise (I noticed at one point there should be one and there wasn’t), as Lumet doesn’t do anything wrong the entire time. Except, of course, not getting a decent rewrite on the script.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Ray Rigby, based on a play by Rigby and R.S. Allen; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Thelma Connell; produced by Kenneth Hyman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Sean Connery (Joe Roberts), Harry Andrews (R.S.M. Bert Wilson), Ian Bannen (Harris), Alfred Lynch (George Stevens), Ossie Davis (Jacko King), Roy Kinnear (Monty Bartlett), Jack Watson (Jock McGrath), Ian Hendry (Williams) and Michael Redgrave (M.O.).


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