Sidney Lumet Retrospective

Filed in Film by on March 7, 2018 0 Comments

The Toronto International Film Festival is presenting a retrospective from March 10-16 on the late Hollywood movie director Sidney Lumet (1924-2011). Five of his films — 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The Prince of the City — will be screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West).

Sidney Lumet toward the end of his life

One of his finest movies, The Prince of the City (1981), contains the elements that were usually present in his productions — a taut story line, a high degree of character development and stellar production values. It will screened on Friday, March 16 at 9:15 p.m.

The central figure here, Daniel Ciello (Treat Williams), is a New York City undercover detective assigned to the narcotics squad. He and his fellow policemen, having been given free rein to take down drug dealers, answer to no one but themselves. As a result, they’ve developed a sense of entitlement and taken advantage of their positions.

This comes out in an early scene during which they steal a suitcase bulging with greenbacks. Although they’re guilty of gross misconduct, they feel no remorse whatsoever. Loyal only to themselves, they enjoy each other’s company at bars and barbecues.

Ciello, however, is bothered by the corruption and contacts Richard Cappalino, an internal affairs cop who’s investigating this very issue. Ciello’s wife urges him to remain silent. In a sop to her, he vows not to expose his partner to prosecution.

Cappalino assures Ciello of his safety if he cooperates, but also warns him he’ll be “eaten alive” if he lies.

Fitted with a wire taped to his chest, Ciello starts recording incriminating conversations with his underworld contacts. One gangster, suspecting Ciello may be stool pigeon, warns him of dire consequences should be caught.

Ciello, played wonderfully by Williams, professes not to be worried. He’s trusted implicitly by the members of his team. Even a high-powered mobster vouches for him. What Ciello doesn’t know is that most of his fellow detectives have already taken the same route, having agreed to spill the beans about their illicit activities. Only one cop, a wily operator named Gus Levy (Jerry Orbach), declines to lend his cooperation.

Treat Williams

When a local newspaper reports that Ciello is an informer, he and his family are driven to a safe house in the mountains north of the city where they’re closely guarded. But even now, Ciello is torn between his official status as a star witness and his personal obligation to his fellow detectives. Lumet exploits this bristling tension for all it’s worth.

At its core, The Prince of the City is about morality. Can a detective who has engaged in numerous acts of misconduct and repeatedly perjured himself be a reliable witness? And should he be exonerated of his crimes in exchange for his assistance in cleaning up a corrupt police department? These issues play out starkly in a series of emotive scenes during which a roomful of prosecutors hash them out.

Lumet probes beneath surface realities to arrive at a point somewhere near the truth. It’s a painful, even violent, voyage of discovery as friends and foes commingle uncomfortably in this disturbing film.









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