The FILM IN WORDS Netflix Film of the Week: helping you navigate the filmic minefield of the nation’s favourite video streaming service.
Smooth saxophone heavy jazz and slow abstract brush strokes painting a midnight blue outline of Manhattan’s skyline offer a classy title sequence to preface one of the lesser known offerings from Sidney Lumet – the mind behind of some of cinema’s most well-respected crime-dramas such as Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Starring Andy Garcia as Sean Casey, the cop turned lawyer who is thrust into taking down one of the city’s most dangerous drug pushers – after he guns down several police-officers during a bust including Casey’s father – Night Falls on Manhattan is a typically slow-burning descent into the psychology of criminology and institutionalised corruption from the veteran director.
Garcia may well not be the cinematic force he once was but the 90’s were a plentiful time for the Cuban-American actor, thanks to numerous starring and accomplished roles in high-profile releases such as The Godfather Part III, Internal Affairs, and beside Meg Ryan in romantic drama When a Man Loves a Woman. Garcia’s inexperienced bright-eyed and heavy-hitting assistant district attorney is appointed prosecutor of the Harlem dope dealer by ailing city DA Morgenstern in the wake of his father’s shooting – much to the dismay of the his peers, as one false move could jeopardise the case and ensure freedom for the ruthless cop killer. As the case ends it only marks the beginning of Casey’s uncovering of police bribery and corruption, placing several precincts including his hero father Liam’s (Ian Holm) under suspicion.
Like much of Lumet’s work and the iconic characters he has so eloquently portrayed throughout his career, Night Falls on Manhattan is robust and masculine affair occupied by equally powerful personalities such as Ron Leibman’s quick-witted Morgenstern, Richard Dreyfuss’ unscrupulous lawyer Sam Vigoda and the late James Gandolfini’s questionable cop Joey Allegretto. Just like the Jazz that introduced it, Night Falls on Manhattan is a classy and bluesy grind through dark city streets and frenzied media packed courtrooms that harkens back to Lumet’s best 70’s work.
Ultimately the finished product doesn’t possess the same x-factor as his debut feature, 12 Angry Men, and fan favourites Network and Serpico but nevertheless it’s an opportunity to further experience an example of Lumet’s stronger work which has fallen under the radar in the same manner as 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The picture is a taught and often heated drama that is by no means light-entertainment, but its confidence, intricate attention to detail and enthralling performances will most likely keep you hooked until the final verdict is reached.