"Q&A" is ostensibly about an investigation into an incident during which a small time drug dealer was shot and killed outside a nightclub by a street cop. In fact though, the movie's about something far more profound as it portrays New York City and its justice system as being inherently racist on every level and also asserts that the type of justice dispensed is determined predominantly by the ethnicity (and corrupt interests) of the people involved on both sides of the line.
Homicide Bureau Chief Kevin Quinn (Patrick O'Neal) appoints Assistant D.A. Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton) to head up an investigation into the shooting of a Puerto Rican by NYPD detective Lieutenant Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte). Quinn makes it clear that Reilly only needs to collect some witness statements and then present them to the Grand Jury because, in his opinion, the case is so straightforward that it doesn't merit any greater attention especially as he regards Brennan as an excellent cop who gets results. Things get complicated and dangerous, however, when Reilly and his fellow investigators start to unearth evidence of corruption and suspect that Brennan may not be blameless for what happened.
Reilly is young, inexperienced and eager to do well in his career but nevertheless (despite the steer he was given by Quinn) feels duty bound to pursue his inquiries thoroughly to discover what actually happened on the night of the shooting. It's soon revealed that the drug dealer was working for a major operator called Bobby Trexador (Armand Assante) who has Mafia connections and Reilly is surprised to find that the girl who was the love of his life is now involved in a relationship with Texador.
Reilly meets Nancy Bosch (Jenny Lumet) on her own and wants to get back with her but it emerges that they had separated after Nancy had seen the expression on Reilly's face when he discovered that her father was black and despite every explanation he'd given her since, Nancy had been haunted by the experience and couldn't consider a reconciliation under any circumstance.
The investigation doesn't go in the way that Quinn had ordered but also ends unsatisfactorily from Reilly's point of view. The experience brings the young investigator into contact with a whole range of people from a variety of different ethnic groups and also culminates in him becoming considerably less naive than he was at the start of the process.
Nick Nolte's portrayal of Brennan (who is corrupt, bigoted and extremely threatening) is incredibly powerful as he looks physically imposing and capable of extreme brutality. Brennan is coarse and very dangerous because he operates by his own rules and is especially adept at covering up his wrongdoings. In situations where his superiors become suspicious of his methods, they quickly decide not to take any action because in a city where the threat of crime getting out of control is always present, his methods at least provide good results.
Patrick O'Neal is perfect as the autocratic, smooth and calculating Quinn who doesn't intend to let principles or regulations get in the way of his political ambitions and Assante is impressive as Trexador who's a very non-stereotypical crime boss. Timothy Hutton also does well in conveying the idealism and gullibility of a young man who like Quinn and Brennan is an Irish American.
"Q&A" is extremely thought provoking as it provides an uncompromising depiction of a situation in which any efforts to control crime and corruption (especially by orthodox methods) are inevitably hampered by the deleterious effects of rampant racism. This problem is portrayed as being intractable with no potential solutions being readily available.
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