Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict

Edit 4/22/11: As you probably know Lumet died on April 8, less than a month after I posted this Quick Picks selection.  Of all the essays about his career published subsequent to his death, the best has been by David Bordwell in his Observations on Film Art blog. He even debunks some of the standard-story claims I make in my brief summary, thanks to actually re-visiting the films rather than depending on memory.  (Thus, his commentary on Lumet's early films are particularly enlightening.)

This week I'm returning the Quick Picks closer to their original inspiration: less talk, more titles and links.

Sidney Lumet has had an amazing career in the American cinema, ranging from his directing debut with 12 Angry Men in 1957 through Before the Devil Knows Your Dead in 2007.  Admittedly there have been some rough patches (like 1990s, for example) but he still has managed to helm some true classics.  While not particularly flamboyant in terms of visual style, nor adventuresome in terms of narrative structure, the best Lumet films are incredibly well crafted, well acted, and concise cinematic gems. 

For a lengthy discussion of his career in film and television, check this series of videos at the Archive of American Television.  If you're not familiar with it already, you also might be interested in looking at Lumet's book on the craft of filmmaking, Making Movies.

Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1975, 124 minutes)
Netflix: To get money for his gay lover's sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) -- who's married with kids -- teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s. Netflix link.

Network (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1976, 121 minutes)
Netflix: When network news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) loses his mind on the air, his outrageous rants reach viewers at home, boost the ratings and intrigue cutthroat network executives Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. William Holden contrasts their avarice as an old-school TV journalist hopelessly out of step in writer Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning masterpiece, which predicted today's rash of trash television and shock-laden news broadcasts. Netflix link.

The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1982, 129 minutes)
Netflix: A washed-up, ambulance-chasing attorney (Paul Newman) gets a chance at redemption when his friend (Jack Warden) tosses him an open-and-shut medical malpractice case. But instead of accepting an easy cash settlement, he takes the powerful defendant to court. James Mason plays the opposing counsel, whom his legal adversary calls "The Prince of Darkness," in this courtroom drama from director Sidney Lumet. Netflix link.

Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1988, 116 minutes)
Netflix: After they bomb a napalm plant during the Vietnam War, Arthur and Annie Pope (Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti) are fugitives, never able to settle down in one place for too long. Years later, their son (River Phoenix) falls in love with a young woman (Martha Plimpton) and must decide whether to keep running with his family or stay put and risk never seeing them again. Phoenix earned an Oscar nod for his performance; Sidney Lumet directs. Netflix link.

Before the Devil Knows Your Dead (Sidney Lumet, USA, 2007, 116 minutes)
Netflix: The perfect crime goes horribly wrong for brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) when they botch a robbery of their parents' jewelry store in this wrenching drama from legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet, who was 82 when he directed the film. Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris co-star as Andy and Hank's unsuspecting parents, with Marisa Tomei appearing as Gina, Andy's unfaithful wife. Netflix link.

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