Image Credit: Tri-Star/The Kobal CollectionI tend to cringe whenever I hear a film described as “a ’70s-style movie.” What could be more annoying, after all, than reducing the most famously adventurous and idiosyncratic period of American filmmaking during the past 50 years to a genre, a mode, a “style,” a brand? Then again, it’s not as if we don’t all know what the phrase means. The most potent films of the 1970s shared a number of characteristics — they were tough, complex, violent, and truthful; they looked, without flinching, at the corruption of America — and the directors who made them had names that now cast a mythic shadow: Altman, Coppola, Friedkin, Scorsese, Polanski, Fosse, Penn, De Palma…and Sidney Lumet.
Unlike most of those names, Sidney Lumet has never been, or pretended to be, a cinematic artist-poet. Yet in the brutally volatile and dynamic New York grit and sweat and intensity he brought to dramas like Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976), he was as quintessential and defining a filmmaker of his time as anyone on that list. So what if I told you that one of Lumet’s signature films of the ’70s is a movie you probably haven’t seen, and may not even have heard of? It’s called Q&A, it’s a towering and labyrinthine tale of tribal police corruption in New York City, and it’s a sensational ’70s film…with the one qualifying fact that it was made not in the ’70s but in 1990. Maybe it’s no surprise that the movie got lost.
Twenty years ago this week, I reviewed Q&A in the 11th issue of EW, and here’s a bit of what I said:
“By now, you’d think Sidney Lumet wouldn’t have it in him to make another police-corruption drama. This is, after all, the director who gave us Serpico and Prince of the City…. At first, his superb new movie, Q&A, seems like more of the same. Set mostly in Manhattan — or, more precisely, Lumet’s Manhattan, that harshly mesmerizing, fluorescent-lit urban purgatory — the film is about a dedicated young assistant DA, Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton), who is called on to investigate a case of ‘justifiable’ homicide. The figure under investigation is Lt. Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte), a veteran cop who’s a legend throughout the NYPD, both for his kick-ass bravado and his fanatic loyalty…. Q&A isn’t merely about the mechanics of a cover-up (which it pretty makes takes for granted). It’s a tale of overlapping conspiracies in which personal and professional corruption have merged in subtle, sometimes shocking ways. Having dug through this terrain twice before, Lumet has reached a new, visionary pitch of despair and searing cynicism. Q&A is his darkest, most labyrinthine drama yet. The movie is an epic portrait of an urban-bureaucratic nightmare — it’s about a criminal-justice system so saturated with cronyism and rancor it’s beginning to strangle itself.”
Wow, what fun! Grab your popcorn and Raisinets!! READ FULL STORY