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The Films of Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men (February 14/15)

Sidney Lumet's first film, 12 Angry Men follows a dozen jurors as they attempt to determine the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of murdering his father. It's a simple premise that's employed to sporadically electrifying effect by Lumet, as the director, along with screenwriter Reginald Rose, does a superb job of introducing each of the (nameless) twelve men of the title - with the uniformly stellar performances going a long way towards initially luring the viewer into the claustrophobic proceeds. Star Henry Fonda delivers a typically compelling and thoroughly charismatic turn as the lone juror convinced of the accused's innocence, with the actor's magnetic work matched by a supporting cast that includes, among others, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb. (The latter is often riveting as Fonda's most vocal and tenacious opponent, and there's little doubt that the film is at its best when focused on the two characters' increasingly contentious arguments.) It's not terribly surprising to note, however, that 12 Angry Men's dialogue-heavy structure results in a decidedly erratic midsection, with the movie's few lulls stemming mostly from the characters' penchant for small talk. This is a minor complaint, of course, for what is otherwise an above average drama, and it's clear, too, that the film has aged surprisingly well in the years since its 1957 release.

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Stage Struck

That Kind of Woman

The Fugitive Kind (November 10/05)

Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, The Fugitive Kind surely marked Marlon Brando's attempt to replicate the success he had with A Streetcar Named Desire (which was only the actor's second film role). And though Brando delivers a performance that's just as engaging and mesmerizing as one might expect, the movie is a dull, relentlessly talky exercise in pointlessness. Brando plays Valentine Xavier, a guitar-toting drifter who unwittingly stirs up trouble after commencing an illicit affair with his boss' wife (played by Anna Magnani). Despite director Sidney Lumet's efforts to inject some style into the proceedings, The Fugitive Kind generally comes off as an unmistakably stagy adaptation of Williams' play, a problem that's exacerbated by the flowery, thoroughly antiquated dialogue (ie "I tried to pour oblivion out of a bottle, but it wouldn't pour out.") This distinct lack of authenticity is reflected in Magnani's distractingly emphatic performance, which is just about the polar opposite of Brando's subtle work here. And while there are a few compelling sequences here and there - something that's particularly true of the scene in which several characters engage in a dramatic confrontation while carnival music plays in the background - the film is generally crushed under the weight of the overly familiar storyline and unreasonably slow pace.

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John Brown's Raid

The Iceman Cometh

Vu du pont

Long Day's Journey Into Night

The Pawnbroker


The Hill

The Group

The Deadly Affair

Bye Bye Braverman

The Sea Gull

The Appointment

Last of the Mobile Hot Shots

The Anderson Tapes

The Offence

Child's Play

Serpico (March 14/18)

Based on a book by Peter Maas, Serpico follows Al Pacino's title character as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the New York Police Department and eventually embarks on a campaign to expose its rampant corruption. Director Sidney Lumet has infused Serpico with an episodic feel that paves the way for a decidedly hit-and-miss atmosphere, with the movie's far-too-long running time of 130 minutes ultimately highlighting the meandering nature of Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler's screenplay. And although the film's early stretch does hold some promise, particularly with its emphasis on the protagonist's initial exploits on the police force, Serpico's been saddled with a midsection devoted primarily to Pacino's character's less-than-engrossing problems in both his personal and professional lives. The ensuing heavy emphasis on Serpico's floundering romantic relationships and ongoing battles with his corrupt coworkers perpetuates the meandering, erratic vibe, and it's clear, ultimately, that the movie's watchable atmosphere is due mostly to Pacino's typically striking and often electrifying turn as the beleaguered central character - although Lumet admittedly does pepper the proceedings with a handful of palpably engrossing segments (eg Serpico, dressed in his street clothes, is mistaken for a criminal and almost killed by a fellow officer). The far-from-superlative vibe persists right through to the interesting yet underwhelming conclusion, which does, in the end, confirm Serpico's place as a passable piece of work that is, for the most part, unable to transcend its decidedly dry subject matter.

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Lovin' Molly

Murder on the Orient Express

Dog Day Afternoon



The Wiz

Just Tell Me What You Want

Prince of the City


The Verdict


Garbo Talks


The Morning After

Running on Empty

Family Business


A Stranger Among Us (February 2/16)

A Stranger Among Us casts Melanie Griffith as Emily Eden, a tough-as-nails cop who must go undercover within a strict Hasidic community to solve a murder - with the film detailing the inevitable culture clash that ensues and Emily's eventual crush on a devout man named Ariel (Eric Thal). It's clear virtually from the get-go that director Sidney Lumet, working from a screenplay by Robert J. Avrech, isn't looking to take a subtle approach to the material, as A Stranger Among Us is rife with laughably heavy-handed instances of plot and character development - with the entirety of Emily's character arc handled especially poorly and negatively coloring the remainder of the proceedings. (It's impossible not to groan inwardly, for example, as Emily begins correcting friends and coworkers about elements of the Jewish culture after being around them for just a few days.) And while Avrech's script often proves an eye-opening look at the seriously backwards Hasidic community, A Stranger Among Us suffers from an excessively deliberate pace that effective highlights the less-than-engrossing storyline - with Emily and Ariel's burgeoning romance striking all the wrong notes throughout (ie there's just no chemistry between these two disparate figures). It's likely a testament to Lumet's steady directorial hand that A Stranger Among Us never quite morphs into the all-out trainwreck it threatens to become, with the film's watchable atmosphere - albeit in a this-is-more-entertaining-than-watching-paint-dry sort of way - ensuring that it never quite becomes the worst film in Lumet's solid body of work.

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Guilty as Sin

Night Falls on Manhattan

Critical Care


Strip Search

Find Me Guilty

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

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© David Nusair