Saturday, November 5, 2011

Profile of a Director

Sidney Lumet: Master of Cinema
“While the goal of all movies is to entertain,” Mr. Lumet once wrote, “the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience and stimulates thought”. I have said before in one of my posts about how I stumbled upon the greatness of this amazing director. Though I did not know some of his movies when I saw them to be his, all his movies, knowingly or unknowingly to be his work, have always kept me riveted. I am devoting this third post in profile of a director series to Sidney Lumet; known to bring out the best from his actors as well as for his great sense of storytelling and technical aspects of film making and also one of my favorite directors. Sidney Lumet is one of the greatest American directors. But what is most notable about him is he made movies on so wide range of subjects that it is almost impossible to categorize him.

Lumet was one of the most prolific directors directing 72 films over the course of 50 long years of his career. Many of these films were critical success - commercially some were successful where some of then were downright disaster as well. However they always were recognized for fine performances, which can be evident by the fact that he directed 17 different actors to the Oscar Nominated performances - 4 of them ended up winning. He himself was nominated 5 times, never won though. Probably this just added another aura to his legacy though like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick.

After using two different approaches for first two directors, since he was such a prolific director, today I am going to try and come up with his 10 best films in my opinion.

1. 12 Angry Men(1957): This is one of my Top 10 of all time Films. This was Lumet’s First feature film and, not just by me but by many others as well, considered to be his best film. This court-room drama is pretty much set in one room - the room where juries retire to make their final decision. However, this absorbing movie reaches far beyond the confinement of its jury room setting. Henry Fonda, playing Juror #8, engraves that term 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' is not just legal jargon but has great importance and him producing same knife that was used to kill by verdict remains to be one of the most amazing moments of my cinematic life.

2. The Hill(1965): I have said pretty much everything I wanted to say Here.

3. Dog Day Afternoon(1975): What I find most interesting about this film is, though it is based on a True Story, just after half an hour into the movie, I was pretty convinced that when Police arrive outside, Pacino and Cazale were done for - this is the end of it. And I was curious because there was still more than hour of film left. The way he built up story from that point was simply remarkable. Getting crowd involved by provoking them against the recent Police atrocities was the masterstroke.

4. Network(1976): Lumet's most successful film, Oscar wise. It is a satire on the News business which even after 35 years holds as true as it was at the time of release. Faye Dunaway does great job as a producer who is ready to sell anything that people will buy and so does William Holden as a responsible Executive who is trying to make some sense out of the whole mess. But the real show-stealer off course is Peter Finch as a rambling broadcaster. It questions the tendency of selling anything as an Entertainment to increase TRP's of Network.

5. Before The Devil Knows You Are Dead(2007): Last film Lumet made before his death in 2011. One of the reviews I read sums up the movie really well. "The movie's title comes from the Irish toast, 'May you be in Heaven half an hour Before the Devil knows you're dead.' Unfortunately, everyone in the film is running about 35 minutes late". Its story of two brothers who decide to rob their parents shop to get themselves out of the debts. Robbery not only goes wrong horribly but in the end, it completely destroyes the whole family.

6. Prince of the City(1981): Second movie in his corruption trilogy which also included Serpico (1973) and Q&A(1990). It's a real life story of a Narc detective Robert Leuci who agrees to cop with feds about the department malpractices. He agrees on the term that he will not have to rat out his friends but as he gets deeper and deeper into it, all he can do is watch the whole world around him turn against him. This film is considered authentic enough that it is used in Drugs Enforcement Administration Training Program.

7. The Verdict(1982): Paul Newman plays a miserable lawyer who is fighting a medical malpractice case. After meeting the victim in hospital, he gets involved and turns down the settlement offer from Hospital without Family's consent. Paul Newman does a fantastic job of showing his inner conflict - initially chasing ambulances to get a case and then deciding whether he is doing it for the victim or for himself.

8. Serpico(1973): First of his Corruption Trilogy I talked about earlier. Again, Its a real life story of Frank Serpico, a cop who helped to expose the biggest corruption scandal in history of NYPD and his undeterred resolve to never take a bribe. What is amazing to see here is how much intimidation Al Pacino's character has to face from just his fellow policemen. "Everyone is eating. Why can't you just like them?" seems to be the catch line.

9. A Long Day’s Journey Into Night(1962): Based on Pulitzer prize winning play by Eugene O'Neill, it tells the story of a day in life of dysfunctional family where everyone is playing the blame game. Most of Lumet's early films are adaptations from plays. But, in this case, it looks like only change Lumet made from play to movie is he shot them on locations. And Great direction by Lumet and some great acting by all the characters make it interesting. But, it lacks the pace and whole grimm feel of a movie can be a put-off too.

10. Fail-Safe(1964): If not for its too idealistic ending, this film would have made its way up at the top. Maybe the fact it was made in 1964 just after JFK's assassination, JFK's idealism made its impression. Otherwise, till the last 10-15 minutes, it looks really good especially with handling many aspects of impending nuclear war.

Previous Profiles:
Martin Scorsese
Woody Allen


  1. Nice commentary on one of the coolest directors who ever lived. I was never the biggest fan of Before the Devil, but I have a feeling I should watch it again. If I'm being honest, when I saw it I had no idea who the director was, didn't associate it with the continuum of his work so, now that I've seen a lot more of his stuff I think it would open up more!

  2. I have learnt from my own experience that it is very much possible to come across Lumet's work and not know it. That's what makes him great in my opinion.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. Great, great list! I love Sidney Lumet though I have not seen that much from him.

    Looking forward to reading more from your blog in the future!

  4. Main reason why I did this post was so that I can watch more of his work because whatever little I had seen was brilliant !!

    And you are too kind Matt!! Thanks for the encouragement.


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