Night Falls on Manhattan

Esteemed director Sidney Lumet (Network, Serpico, The Verdict) has been enduring a career slump with Family Business, A Stranger Among Us and Guilty As Sin. Don't expect this clumsily contrived police melodrama – his 40th film – to lift him up. Don't count him out, either. At 72, Lumet still knows how to connect with actors.

Andy Garcia leads a strong cast as Sean Casey, a lawyer handpicked by Manhattan District Attorney Morgenstern (Ron Leibman) to be his successor. The case that should make Sean – taking on liberal lawyer Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss) – backfires when the trial introduces an issue of police corruption that hits home for him. Is his beloved cop father, Liam (Ian Holm), on the take? Is Sean's sexual fling with Peggy Lindstrom (Lena Olin), who works with Vigoda, an ethics violation?

Oh, please. The screenplay Lumet has adapted from Robert Daley's novel Tainted Evidence would wither on its clichéd vine if it weren't for the juice Lumet gets out of the actors. Even he can't stop Leibman from chewing scenery, but Dreyfuss is electric as a character loosely based on the late William Kunstler. Garcia's coiled intensity, wasted in the scenes with Olin's stock Delilah, works well with the gifted Holm as the father whose conflict with his son gives Lumet's negligible Night its fleeting moments of hard truth.

From The Archives Issue 761: May 29, 1997