Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Hidden Treasures: Running on Empty, Night Falls on Manhattan
Dog Day Afternoon
Murder on the Orient Express
12 Angry Men
Rightfully so, the blogosphere heralded Lumet as a master class filmmaker, listing these half-dozen classics in every piece. My personal favorite Lumet film is Dog Day Afternoon which, among other things, delivered us Al Pacino's finest performance. Runner up: the nail biter that was 12 Angry Men. His last film, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, is a movie of considerable tension and expert craftsmanship. You'd be hard-pressed to believe it was made by an 82-year-old.
There are a few I have yet seen. Prince and the City. Q & A. Long Day's Journey Into Night. The Pawnbroker. My queue is filled with rich treasures from a grade-A movie-maker I cannot wait to continue discovering.
However, I noticed some Lumet titles missing from the obituaries circulating the web. These two movies may not be hard-core classics like ones listed above but are clearly worth mentioning as strong, emotional projects. For those who appreciate quality filmmaking and good old-fashioned storytelling should dig a little deeper and queue up these Lumet gems.
Running on Empty (1988)
Possibly the most over-looked film in Lumet's resume, a movie of great power and emotion. River Phoenix, who earned an Oscar nomination, gave us his best performance here as a teen whose childhood consisted of running away with his hippie underground parents and little brother. They would settle into a new town, get comfortable and then be forced to leave once the fuzz got too close. One day, Phoenix has had enough. He met a girl he liked (Martha Plimpton), his musical skills are becoming refined and he wants to build a life. How could his parents prevent him from growing roots? Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch are extraordinary as the criminals who eventually realize that they need to let their son go.
Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
Lumet assembled a phenomenal cast, one of his best, in this crackling courtroom thriller about a newly appointed district attorney (Andy Garcia) who is thrown into the spotlight when a case involving a major police shooting is handed over to him. His father, a cop (Ian Holm), was a victim of the shooting, and he soon learns that he may have been involved in some shady dealings. Garcia is torn between his new career as a hotshot lawyer and his family. James Gandolfini is Holm's partner, who is clearly hiding something. Colm Feore is the lawyer who got pushed aside to make way for Garcia's star to rise. Richard Dreyfuss is smarmy and great as the defense attorney trying to uncover the lies. And in the best performance of the film, Ron Liebman plays Garcia's boss, Chief Morganstern, a hot-tempered attorney with the election in his sights. Lena Olin, Paul Guilfoyle and Dominic Chianese (as the judge) round out the cast. Night Falls on Manhattan is a feast for those who love juicy, firecracker performances, and a fine example of why Sidney Lumet, who also wrote the screenplay, will long be remembered as an actor's director.