A New York City narcotics detective reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he's in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.
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New York City cop Daniel Ciello is involved in some questionable police practices. He is approached by internal affairs and in exchange for him potentially being let off the hook, he is instructed to begin to expose the inner workings of police corruption. Danny agrees as long as he does not have to turn in his partners but he soon learns that he cannot trust anyone and he must decide whose side he is on and who is on his. Written by
Josh Pasnak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Screenwriter Jay Presson Allen gave the book to Sidney Lumet telling him that the material would make a very interesting movie. She also told Sidney Lumet to read the book quickly. See more »
Near the start of the film when Dan is pushing his brother Ronnie around, there's a large crack on the wall (probably from a previous shot). After he pushes Ronnie near the wall, another large crack appears but Ronnie is never shown hitting the wall. See more »
[grabbing Polito by the lapels]
I'll tell you what I'm in a position to do, and that's throw you out the fuckin' window. It's only the fifth floor, but I'll try to aim you so you land on your pointed little head.
District Attorney Polito:
Levy, you can easily avoid trial. All you have to do is cooperate.
Fuck it. You got your mind made up to try me? Go ahead and try me. But not for a lousy 400 dollars. At least get me for assault.
[knees Polito in the groin]
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accurate portrayal of use and behavior of informants
I've been a defense lawyer in NYC for the past 35 yars. I have more than a passing familiarity with some of the actual trials and appeals generated by Ciello's (Treat Williams' character) testimony. More broadly, I can attest to the accuracy of the film's depiction of the agonies, doubts, remorse and dreads of the turncoat/informant-witness in criminal cases. No film has developed this theme - a very common one in federal criminal trials, but one never visible to the public - as thoroughly as this film. "Goodfellas" devoted a few minutes to this, but only to the witness protection aspect after Henry Hill decided to testify, and never developed the broader, morally ambiguos dimensions of becoming an informer who turns on former close associates.
Nor has any other film more accurately revealed the way government prosecutors deal with their informants, which is not always pretty; often prosecutors treat their informers in ways that paralell the way Ciello treated his junkie informers on the street - he supplied them with drugs when he needed them, but he also abused, ignored or took advantage of their vulnerabilities when the need suited him.
The film also displayed, though it did not emphasize, another aspect of the prosecutor/informant relationship: willful blindness to likely perjury. Here, when Ciello offers to cooperate, prosecutors sternly insist that he tell the whole truth, not just about the crimes committed by others but by Ciello himself. They want to be assured of this not only because legal ethics demand it, but because their cases can fall apart if the defense later uncovers and reveals nasty secrets about the informant to the trial jury to undermine the informant's credibility. Here, as in the actual case, Ciello insisted that he had committed "only three" crimes while a NYPD detective. While prosecutors sensed, but did not actually know, right from the start that this was highly unlikely, and that Ciello was in fact concealing both the number and severity of his past misdeeds, they preferred not to inquire too deeply, and did little independent investigation of Ciello's prior misconduct on the force ("willful blindness"). That came back to haunt them, because after the trials, the defense lawyers dug up many of Ciello's hitherto unrevealed criminal deeds, and severely damaged his credibility, almost fatally imperiling the convictions his testimony had been so helpful in procuring. This film portrays not only the moral dilemma of the informant, but the moral dilemma of prosecutors, who desperately need informants to build their cases, but who have mixed feelings about learning too much about their unsavory pasts.
By the way, the detective played by Jerry Orbach has been a private investigator for the past 20 years or so (though never convicted, he was discharged from the police force); I've hired him, and he is terrific!!
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