USA / 1997
Director and Writer: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, Richard Dreyfuss, James Gandolfini, Shiek Mahmud-Bey
After the somewhat lacklustre A Stranger Among Us and Guilty as Sin, Sidney Lumet returned to top form with this film, based on Robert Daley’s novel which was, in turn, based on a series of true events. Andy Garcia plays Sean Casey, an ex-cop who’s been through law school and joins the New York DA’s office as a lowly prosecutor.
But he’s suddenly elevated to chief prosecutor in the trial of drug lord Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey), accused of murdering three cops and wounding another – the survivor is Sean’s father, Liam (Ian Holm) and Sean has been chosen because it’s election year and DA Morgenstern (Ron Leibman) sees this high profile trial as his ticket to another term. But Washington is being defended by Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss), who decides that the key to his defence will be to put the entire NYPD on trial for their illicit and often illegal use of the law to make their busts.
With only the briefest of action sequences (the bust going wrong), Lumet instead creates a tension throughout the film reminiscent of his 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon or Serpico by never defining his characters as black and white, but instead showing the various shades of grey that help them live their lives as cops, lawyers and even criminals and, in doing so, creating real three-dimensional characters rather than stereotypes in this very underrated crime drama.