Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars:Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, Richard Dreyfuss, Lena Olin, Ron Liebman, James Gandolfini, Shiek Mahmud-Bey, Colm Feore, Dominic Chianese, Paul Guilfoyle
Running Time:113 minutes.
Many of Sidney Lumet’s regular themes are evident in Night Falls On Manhattan, which centres around an idealistic District Attorney who faces a moral dilemma that forces him to question his own unwavering belief in the law. Andy Garcia plays Sean Casey, a former cop who has become an assistant district attorney.
When a notorious drug dealer kills several cops during a chaotic raid, the ambitious and politically astute DA (Ron Liebman) appoints Sean to try the case. It’s a cynical move as Casey’s father, a veteran cop, was seriously wounded in the raid. After he secures a conviction in this high profile case, Casey’s career is on the rise, and when the DA falls ill, he finds himself reluctantly thrust into the top job. Casey can no longer afford to see his world in simple terms of black and white, and he has to quickly learn the ambiguities of power and the art of compromise. The fallout from the trial soon threatens to engulf him in allegations of police corruption and a messy investigation.
This is the type of intelligent, compelling and well-acted drama that Lumet normally handles with a sense of urgency and passion. However, when compared to many of his other films, particularly the classic Serpico, Night Falls On Manhattan seems surprisingly restrained and lacklustre, and moves at a pedestrian pace. As usual, Lumet has attracted a superb line-up of character actors who deliver strong performances that lift the mediocre material.
Garcia delivers one of his more powerful performances here, conveying the anguish and confusion of Sean as he tries to deal with the crisis that could destroy his career. Ian Holm (from The Fifth Element, etc) delivers a powerful and impassioned performance as his father, a veteran street cop whose obsession with bringing the drug dealer to justice sets in motion a chain of events that will threaten his son’s reputation. Richard Dreyfuss makes the most of a smaller role as Sam Vigoda, an idealistic, crusading defence attorney who first raises the issue of police corruption during the trial. Lena Olin (The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, etc) finds herself stuck with a fairly thankless role as Casey’s mistress, who also happens to be one of Vigoda’s assistants.
The film is based on the novel Tainted Evidence, written by Robert Daley (Year Of The Dragon, etc) but Lumet has deliberately changed the rather blunt and revealing title to the far more romanticised and evocative Night Falls On Manhattan. A director intimately familiar with the city, Lumet makes good use of actual locations, ranging from the tenements of Harlem through to Foley Square, to add atmosphere to this otherwise routine tale.