Blu-ray review: “Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996)

“Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996)


Running time: 109 minutes

Written by: Sidney Lumet based on the novel Night Falls on Manhattan by Robert Daley

Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Featuring: Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, James Gandolfini, Lena Olin, Ron Leibman and Richard Dreyfuss

Sean Casey: “You were a cop, Joe. Now you’re a garbage! You are nothing!

Released recently on blu-ray is the mid eighties drama “Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996) written and directed by master auteur Sidney Lumet who spent a lifetime making films based in New York with a large amount of his classics directly analysing the NYPD and all that entails, the good, the bad and the ugly. This is a film that not only attempts to cast an eye over the NYPD, but also the D.A.’s office and the political life that is present in that office which is fascinating if not a little broad. There is a lot to really enjoy about this movie, the actors, the plot, the direction and the winding narrative that plays with expectations all the way through, it is for me, one of Lumet’s best later career movies.

When speaking about Lumet’s movies, especially “Night Falls on Manhattan” one cannot help but address that this is a quintessential Lumet film. It is set and filmed in New York, it shows the loss of faith in State Institutions like the NYPD as well as the D.A.’s office. This film also illustrates how fully each of these offices rely on each other but are also at odds with one another. We see from the street level how corruption is endemic but it is juxtaposed with the higher office where corruption takes place legally, where to succeed you must sell your soul a little at a time. Another aspect that we see which Lumet would interrogate is the race issue of who is working where and how these different cultures intersect and divide, where violence is a way for people to prove themselves and to be used as currency.

“Night Falls on Manhattan” concerns NYPD detectives Liam Casey (Ian Holm) and Joey Allegretto (James Gandolfini) who conduct a surveillance operation against Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey), a notorious drug dealer. On a tip from an informant, they venture into an apartment block where Washington is reported to be hiding. After Casey shoots the lock, Washington fires a submachine gun through his front door, seriously wounding Casey. Police backup units arrive and swarm the building, but Washington executes an escape in an NYPD squad car after killing two cops. In a surprising move, District Attorney Morganstern (Ron Leibman) appoints Casey’s son Sean (Andy García), an ex-cop and recently appointed ADA, to prosecute Washington when he is caught. In the process, he passes over the more experienced ADA Elihu Harrison (Colm Feore), who plans to oppose him in an upcoming judicial election. Of course this is only part of the story, where we delve into a court case, an election for the D.A. and revelations that become apparent to all with some prices to be paid. this is a movie where you go places you might not expect, finding no easy ending but multiple deals made with the devil.

This is a film that is teaming with great actors in almost every role, while Lumet casts some well known New York actors he also is not afraid to bring in other talent that on the surface may seem out of place. One of the aspects of New York and Lumet movies is the idea of multi ethnic casting which can be seen in many of his best works. So here we have Andy Garcia who is from Cuba, a natural immigrant, whose Father is portrayed by Ian Holm from the UK, his Mother was Hispanic (dead in the film) – what better representation is that? Garcia plays his part well, although in parts his own idiosyncratic tics come out, what would a Garcia performance be without some yelling, but he does well and this movie would mark the beginning of his decline in quality leading roles. Some stand outs are of course the great character actors James Gandolfini and Ron Leibman who play their parts perfectly and are both given scenes to show off their chops, you can tell both love working in New York, for Lumet and in a very good film. Rounding out the cast are two veterans (even in 1995!) the amazing Lena Olin and the always watchable Richard Dreyfuss who again play parts that could be run of the mill, been there, done that , but in a Lumet film they mean something and perform vital roles within the narrative.

What is great about “Night Falls on Manhattan” is that it feels a part of Lumet’s overall oeuvre, in that it sits along “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), “Serpico” (1973) and the fantastic “Prince of the City” (1981) all of which show a city on the edge but in decline, but also illustrate honesty, integrity, human emotion and corruption at all levels, showing us a reflection of ourselves in ways that are shocking and Universal. The other, and maybe surprising thing is that Lumet was 65 when he wrote and directed “Night Falls on Manhattan”, and he would continue to make films up to his death at the age of 86, he was as vital making this as he was when he was younger, something many directors are unable to say. Like other New York directors he had he own vision of what the city was in the present and what it was becoming, he was loyal to it but was not afraid to call it out in his films.

This movie is not perfect, but it offers a real snapshot of a time and place that in some ways has not changed much, there is still corruption, the police still have their issues with themselves and the public, the politics of the city are complex and divided with deals having to be made at all levels. However it is still a fascinating place where people choose to live with all of these issues, it has become a place that globally still fascinates and attracts , Lumet knew this which is why his best works are timeless.

Special features

  • Audio commentary with Director Sidney Lumet
  • Audio commentary with actors Andy Garcia and Rob Leibman, and producers Josh Kramer and Thom Mount
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Theatrical Trailer

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