Lieutenant Michael Brennan has a tough reputation as an old-style cop that breaks balls but gets the job done. However had someone seen Brennan hiding in a dark alley outside a club until his suspect came out for a p1ss only for Brennan to shoot him dead and plant a gun that had been used in other murders, then that reputation may not do him much good. On this occasion Assistant DA Al Francis is brought in to do the investigation one that is sold to him as a formality to get him started. The Q & A's go well but Francis is given enough to doubt that the shooting was as clean as Brennan tells it however Brennan is not the type you easily square up to and soon the stakes are high.
Opening with a sudden moment of violence this film leaves you in no doubt that Brennan is not a rough cop so much as a cop operating above the law on his own agenda. Like The Shield has done recently this drama puts us in the complex world of the grey areas and invites us to consider the pay off between doing things by the book or taking hard action and "getting results". It doesn't do this to a great extent though just enough to be add layers to the character but clearly corrupt enough to be the evil heart of the story. The narrative builds a dark drama involving the police investigation into Brennan on one side, with the criminal awareness of Brennan's murders on the other. It isn't really a character piece about Brennan so much as it is a straight crime drama but it works very well for what it is. I have no idea why it is so underrated on IMDb because it is an effective thriller with an enjoyably tough edge to it from start to near-finish. I say near-finish because the film concludes by tying up the story with Francis' relationships and soul neither of which are that well done across the film and thus I didn't care as much as I should have done.
Lumet's direction is good and captures the depressing feel of New York at its lowest point. However the choice of music has two detrimental effects. Firstly it dates the film really badly, which is maybe a problem that can be forgiven as part of time going by. The second impact is less forgivable and must have been a problem at the time and this is how the music fits with the drama. For example several key scenes are played out under the chirpy tune "Don't Double-Cross the Ones you Love"; it is as grating and clunky as it sounds and it is a stupid effect that happens several times with the same result.
The cast are mostly very good though. Nolte chews the scenery and steals every scene with a character so monstrous that even his absurd handlebar moustache cannot take away from it. Hutton is good enough to do the job but sadly his character isn't as convincing as it needed to be; the script tries to make him more interesting than a choir boy but it doesn't do it very well. Assante is a little OTT at times but he works well in his character and fills the gap left by Nolte's absence. Minor support is good and features a cast that got starry with time Guzmán, Dutton, Chianese, Finkel and others. Lumet tries hard but her part of the narrative is weak and thus her task is a rather thankless one.
Despite the problems though this is still a solid and dark cop drama that holds the interest well. Some of the performances may verge on ham, the music may be mostly awful and some elements of the narrative fall flat but for what it does well it is certainly worth a look.
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