Night Falls on Manhattan (1996)
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Two New York detectives on a stakeout are given a tip by an informant that a drug dealer that they're interested in, is currently in the building that they're watching. Detective Liam Casey (Ian Holm) promptly rushes into the building to make an arrest and his partner, Detective Joey Allegretto (James Gandolfini) follows a little later after having called for back up. Officers from three precincts respond to the call for assistance but the operation ends disastrously as Casey is shot and critically injured, three other officers are killed and the drug dealer, Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey), embarrassingly manages to escape in an NYPD squad car.
Washington, under the supervision of his lawyer, Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss) turns himself in to the police and New York D.A. Morgenstern (Ron Leibman) swiftly appoints one of his most junior assistants, Sean Casey (Andy Garcia) to prosecute the case. Casey is very inexperienced but Morgenstern calculates that it will play well with the media if the wounded detective's son is involved in the high profile trial. This appointment also neatly avoids Morgenstern having to give the case (and any potential kudos that might be gained) to his senior assistant, Elihu Harrison (Colm Feore) who is a fiercely ambitious man who intends to stand for election against him at the next opportunity.
At Washington's trial, Vigoda claims that his client had been paying protection money to the police and when another drug kingpin had offered to pay them more, he refused to get involved in a bidding war. This, he believed, made him a target and as he was convinced that the corrupt police were out to kill him, Washington had simply acted in self-defence during the raid on his apartment. Washington claimed to have been paying money to officers from the same three precincts that were involved in the shootout at his building and also said that one of the corrupt officers was Kurt Kleinhoff. Despite Vigoda's accusations, Sean Casey discredits Wahington so successfully that a guilty verdict and sentencing soon follow.
Casey's victory in court wins him valuable publicity and so when D.A Morgenstern suffers a heart attack and has to stand down from his job, Casey wins the election to be his successor. At this point, things seem to be going perfectly but matters soon take on a different complexion after Kurt Kleinhoff's body and a book containing the names of a number of officers from the same three precincts that were involved in the shootout are found. This triggers an Internal Affairs investigation which brings to light some matters that threaten to unravel the case that brought Casey all his success and point the finger of suspicion at people who are close to him. The ways in which this highly principled man responds to the various improprieties that are unearthed seriously tests his integrity and leads him to recognise the value of pragmatism.
This movie is full of really strong characters that are brought to life very convincingly by its talented cast. Andy Garcia does a good job of conveying the range of emotions that Sean goes through on his journey from being an impractical idealist to achieving the kind of maturity that enables him to navigate his way through some difficult situations. Ron Leibman is terrific as the wonderfully hyperactive Morgenstern who's very adept at manipulating events to suit his own purposes and Richard Dreyfuss also impresses as a defence attorney with a personal agenda. Ian Holm and James Gandolfini are also very good in their supporting roles.
"Night Falls On Manhattan" is a criminally under-appreciated film that's not only thought-provoking, intelligent and realistic but also thoroughly entertaining to watch.
Sidney Lumet (Find Me Guilty, Dog Day Afternoon) likes working with ethical questions, and he did a good job here in presenting a world that is not black and white, but gray.
I generally do not like Andy Garcia (Ocean's Eleven, The Godfather Part III) or Ron Leibman (Zorro, the Gay Blade), but that may be because of their politics off the screen. It affects my judgment. I have to say that they both gave interesting performances that made this film worth watch. But, there were a lot of good stars in this film: Sir Ian Holm (Chariots of First) as Garcia's father, James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) as a corrupt cop and Holm's partner, Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland's Opus, The Goodbye Girl, Jaws) as a liberal lawyer, Colm Feore (Bon Cop, Bad Cop, The Red Violin, Chicago) as an ADA that wants the top job, and Lena Olin (Enemies: A Love Story, Chocolat, "Alias") as the love interest.
Very good acting throughout and a compelling story.
The performances are good, the plot is interesting and clever. What I didn't like about it was that the shots of the film looked like a movie made for TV.
The plot is about how Sean Casey ,an assistant district attorney working for just six months, improves very fast in his way up at his job but he is going to discover many dirty things about policemen and politics and is at this point where he will have to make difficult decisions that will put in text his principles.
If you like intelligent police or court movies, this one is for you.
Check out the documentary called THE LARRY DAVIS STORY which won an award for Best Documentary in the Urbanworld Film Festival in 2003.
However, it serves well on film and Sidney Lumet is great act capturing the look and feel of NYC in the early 90's. It has a "Prince of the City" feel to it.
If I had to take a guess, I might say that perhaps he wants a variety, and doesn't calculate the risk involved with certain works that have obviously turned out to be major flops. Or maybe he does know the risk and he just doesn't care. Now remember, though I'm sure even the "master" critics have jumped on and trashed some of his better work, if you place something like "Prince of the City" or "Equus" next to "The Wiz," "Running on Empty" and "Serpico" next to "Critical Care," wow! I mean you are just asking for trouble.
Regardless, this guy is a filmmaker.
As with anything, there are people who will dog this and say it was slow and Lapaglia was over the top or whatever the multitude of criticisms may be, "the lighting created an unwanted mood" (by whose standards), "the script had flaws" (oh did it? What were they?) and the list goes on. However without getting into every nook and cranny available, I will just say if you enjoy a good drama, you may enjoy this.
For the decent side of Lumet's work, this is a pretty fair example and on every front, I think it works out okay. Do I have any criticisms? None worth more than "I liked it or didn't." I did in fact like it by the way. It might be considered standard fare or even dated a bit by some and as a result, not as powerful as it might be otherwise, but it is a good example of Sidney Lumet's better filmmaking and not a bad story to boot.
Dig Colm Feore's role here. I like this guy and though he's probably found in the shadows more than in the spotlight, he is one vastly talented actor. I caught him last year in the lead for "My Fair Lady" at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada and though he really probably is an acquired taste, he is a talent to be reckoned with for sure. It would be nice to see him garner larger roles since talent like this sure seems wasted on bit parts.
This is familiar turf for veteran filmaker Sidney Lumet, and he has made a fairly compelling film, despite the miscasting of British Holm and Cuban Garcia as father and son, respectively, although Holm does manage an amazingly authentic Queens accent. Leibman overacts outrageously as the head D.A.; one wonders how anyone as abrasive as he is would be able to get so far!
Some sequences are a little too pat for comfort. Still "Manhattan" makes for engrossing if predictable drama, exploring once again the extent to which the cumbersome wheels of justice have to be manipulated. Richard Dreyfuss is pretty good in a surprisingly small role as the drug dealers's Dershowitz-like defense attorney, who turns out to be more willing to bend the rules than you would expect, considering his primary motive for taking the case.
Of course, this is an absolutely ludicrous argument, but Lumet urges us to take it seriously so that when the conviction comes down, we can rejoice, Himmler-style, in the grandeur of the thin blue line. Old Lumet sets up the old straw man and knocks him down. What a hack.
Probably the most offensive moment in the film comes when our fearless young protagonist, assistant DA Sean Casey (Andy Garcia) meets with the crazed-radical criminal defense attorney Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss). While they are both in a steam room with wet towels draped over their shoulders (a Roman motif or a bit of unacknowledged homo erotica?), Vigoda confesses that he too has a deep affection for LAW AND ORDER and he solemnly intones, "Sometimes I think that we have to give up on an entire generation and lock them up and throw away the key." Well, you don't need to read to carefully between the lines for the answer to "A generation of whom?" Why those bad minorities of course who Vigoda and Casey agree, sotte voce, must be dealt with harshly, given that their naughty drug dealing and assorted criminality upset National Security State, which of course putters along fine in the face of corporate scandals. The day that Sidney Lumet whines about the corporate scandals that have engulfed our society is the day that I begin to take him seriously.
Sidney Lumet, in The Verdict, Q and A, Prince of the City, and now Night Falls on Manhattan, along with other "tough and gritty" movies, has demonstrated that he a vulgar buffoon is incapable of or unwilling to learn about the American legal system. He fawns upon power, and unspools magic theories about the careful deliberations that attends its use. Our packed prisons are eloquent testimony to the just how much deliberation the powerful exercise when it comes to the lives of the weak.
It the meantime, he endlessly denigrates the criminal defense bar and by extrapolation, those hapless suckers too poor and unconnected to avoid criminal prosecution. No doubt, he is considered part of "liberal Hollywood," and would self-identify himself so. If he is indeed a liberal, the governing assumptions that he buys into show just how little discourse there is in our society, particularly on the criminal justice system.
Later he surrenders himself under the legal guidance of Richard Dreyfuss. As soon as Dreyfuss and the black dealer show up, the cops go ape, bust the windows of the car, and beat the crap out of the dealer as they drag him away like a lynch mob gone wild.
Newbie District Attorney, Andy Garcia, wins the case against the dealer, who is sentenced to life without parole. Garcia's father was the old cop wounded in the shoot out, and it's partly because of Garcia's status as victim that he wins the case and the office.
He's an idealist, always a bad sign. And when he begins to look into the context in which the shoot out occurred -- the dealer trying to save himself from crooked cops out to kill him -- the trail is long and winding and eventually the cool arms of the law begin to enfold his own father.
By this time, I'm thinking, "By Gad, this is Sidney Lumet territory!" Not just because of the subject -- police corruption and torn allegiances on the streets of New York -- but because of the detached style in which this dramatic material is handled.
It was, of course, directed by Sidney Lumet, who has an indisputable feel for this sort of stuff. (Makes one wonder about his childhood.) I think, at times, he let's Garcia's quest for perfection get a little out of hand though. Garcia is best at projecting stifled intensity, what with his fevered eyes and unblinking stare, but Lumet may have him shouting when he should be glaring. But that doesn't happen often. Garcia is a likable and thoroughly competent actor and the role suits him. Well, as long as I'm carping, let me add that the name of Garcia's cop shouldn't have been Sean Casey. It should have been Juan Cansino. And men don't embrace or kiss cheeks in Irish families either.
Both Ian Holm and James Gandolfini do quite well in their roles. The latter is an affable cop who cheerfully admits to perjury but, when faced with serious charges, blows himself away after sensibly getting skunked. Ian Holm is really surprising in his range. I mean, the guy is a Limey and still entirely believable as an aging New York cop. Some of the touches he brings to the role are so subtle as to go almost unnoticed. (Eg., when he learns by phone of the suicide of Gandolfini, who was his partner, his elbow slips off his knee an inch or so.) He was even convincing as a treacherous robot in "Alien." I don't know if this production is up there with "Serpico", "Prince of the City", or "Q & A". The script for that last flick is probably the weakest. But, in any case, trying to rank order movies is a hopeless task, each film being made up of its own unique dimensions -- casting, photography, score, performances, locations, and so forth.
Still, Lumet's series on cops in New York is so much better than the typical kind of Manichean garbage on today's screens -- one impeccable hero against an army of venomous villains, not one of whom even has a stamp collection, just money, power, broads, and evil intent. In Lumet's work, the protagonist finds himself in all kinds of unanticipated morally gray areas. It challenges you. It asks, "What would YOU do under these circumstances?" I can understand why it might generate unease in some viewers.
This was a pretty good film. At first, I thought it was going to be about tracking down and then convicting the cop killer. But we find out that the killing, tracking and convicting are all accomplished relatively quickly, and only serve as a premise to open up the idea that certain police officers were working with the drug dealers.
This is very well scripted, very well acted. And knowing a little bit about police corruption, the story does not even seem far fetched. Though it does have its darkly comical moments, such as having the killer strip naked for reporters.
This movie introduces you to the complexities of the judicial system. It starts with the idealistic view. It leaves you to make the choice of what is right and what is wrong. You'll have to decide for yourself what is or would be justice. From the politics, the backroom deals and the downright corruption it's all there. It certainly isn't pretty because nobody's perfect. The acting is great but I've always felt Andy Garcia is a fine actor. The entire cast was well chosen and you feel their emotions and believe them as their character. The story moves along well and there are enough twists to keep you interested. This isn't a movie that leaves you cheering for more. It does however make you think about the complexities of justice. When your outside looking in things always look different than when you are inside looking out.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.
It so happens that Garcia's pop is one of the cops, and it so happens that Garcia goes up against a flamboyant defense attorney (played believably by Richard Dreyfuss).
While the film has its interesting moments and a modicum of drama, it is crippled by Garcia's over-the-top acting. Did his acting coach tell him that the more you shout, the better your performance?
The plot also suffers from some weaknesses. It is not believable that a wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor, who has been on the job a whole eight months, can be elected district attorney in New York City, regardless of the big case he just won.
All in all, the movie is watchable, though I wouldn't cancel any plans to do it.
But I have to say that his CRITICAL CARE (1997, same year) was FAR better , at least for my taste. NIGHT FALLS... suffered a bit from lack of climax near the end, but it was interesting and well made anyway.
The only saving graces are the talents of Gandolfini & Dreyfus but sadly they are on screen far too seldom.
The exciting start is like a colorful cover of a boring book (remember those?). Leave it on the shelf. It's a confused mess which (according to IMDb) had an alternate ending which is apparent not knowing what to make of itself.
Nightfall & darkness is a mercy sometimes.
I think a major problem with a film like Night Falls on Manhattan is that it has such an explosive opening that it's almost inevitable that everything that follows is going to be an anti-climax. The start of the film where the police are chasing Washington was very entertaining - although his actual escape was rather questionable to me. Then we have the trial of Jordan Washington which again was compelling and helped to establish the plot. It perhaps also helped that Mahmud-Bey was great fun to watch during the trial. Despite how good this aspect of the film was this still brought about some problems....
We're told that Casey Jr will be prosecuting the man who shot his father even though he's never worked on a big case before. OK, in the 'real' world this would be a difficult enough task in itself, but Casey Jr is emotionally involved in this trial which would make prosecuting Washington much more difficult. I think it might have been more believable if Casey Jr were to show some emotion or get upset during the trial which would be a believable character trait given the circumstances. Despite the fact that this aspect of the film entertained me I struggled to find Casey Jr's character to be believable.
The film really falls flat on its face after Washington's trial where we're left with about 55 minutes of divulging through all of the elements of police corruption, a ridiculous, bland and unconvincing romance. The police corruption aspect is interesting in itself, but Lumet seemed to offer very little commentary on the subject and with virtually nothing driving the film in the second half it does become quite dull and tedious.
As far as performances go it's really down to Garcia to carry the film and in this respect he's only partly successful; when tough-talking is required he's great, but he shows very little vulnerability and wasn't great in scenes that require him to show emotion. Gandolfini and Holm were good in the screen time that they were given. Mahmud-Bey wasn't given much to do, but he was fun during the trial. Leibman was by the far the worst offender and his over-acting was unbearable for the most part.
I don't want to pan this film too much as I appreciate and respect that Lumet was trying to explain that not everything in life is 'black and white' and that sometimes those that are meant to uphold and enforce the law can invariably be worse than those that are on trial, but sadly this only really hits home at the end. As far as I'm concerned everything from the end of the trial to the final 5 minutes were nothing more than boredom and tedium.