Can Ameri-can movie-goers be bothered to view a film that is not filled with explosions, slapstick comedy, or the mind-numbing material? Writer-director Sidney Lumet, whose films include Academy Award winners "Dog Day Afternoon," and "Network," has made a film that can easily be considered the only thinking movie of the summer.
"Night Falls on Manhattan" stars Andy Garcia as a Public Defender barely out of law school when a case of incredible magnitude and media popularity falls into his hands. He must prosecute Harlem's biggest drug dealer, who was caught after murdering several policemen to avoid arrest. One of the gunned down policemen is Garcia's father, played by Ian Holm. Garcia is motivated to win the case not only to prove himself as a lawyer, but also to avenge his father, who is in critical condition.
When the case concludes early in the film, Garcia realizes that there is more to the case, including dirty cops, unlawful police work, and a conspiracy to cover it up by local police departments. However, "Night Falls on Manhattan" does not prove to be an absurd conspiracy film like many that we have been offered lately, including "Murder at 1600" and "Absolute Power." Instead, it proves to be a brainy legal drama, filled with the realistic disillusionment about the American legal system that made Lumet's 1982 film, "The Verdict," such a quality movie.
The cast is first-rate. Andy Garcia is perfect for the role with his quiet charm. Richard Dreyfuss gives a stellar performance as a rival lawyer out to get dirty cops. Ian Holm is exceptional as Garcia's father, portraying the character's turmoil with his conscience incredibly well. Perhaps the finest performance comes from Ron Liebman, who not only depicts the former D.A. with gripping reality, but also adds comic relief to an otherwise dark film.
There is nothing too interesting about the photography, except for conversation scenes which are well shot. The editing is consistent and helps move the story along, and the direction is easily good enough, if not better, than could be expected of such tried talent as Lumet. Even with such a talented cast, Lumet's presence holds an unmistakeable place in the quality of the film.
I give "Night Falls on Manhattan" a rating of four stars and strongly recommend it. In the midst of all the current special effects films, it is clearly the film to see.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.