17 November 2005 | paul2001sw-1
New York Confidential
Guess the film from the following description of its characters. A young man investigating misdeeds in the police force, motivated by the memory of his father (a legendary policeman) but also by the pain of having lost the affections of a woman he loves to another player in the drama. A renegade cop, rampaging violently through the city, but revered on the force for standing up to the scum on the streets. And the renegade's boss, who protects him, partly because he himself is on old-school Irish policeman; but partly because he appreciates having his own private bag-man, especially in his dealings with organised crime. Throw in some prostitutes for a little background colour, and it sounds like a perfect description of 'L.A. Confidential'. But it also describes this tough and underrated movie made by Sidney Lumet some years before Curtis Hanson's film.
Whereas Hanson's film was stylised, and glamorised violence (provided the cause was just), Lumet has gone for a more realist approach, and his bad cop (played mesmerisingly by Nick Nolte) is completely rotten, in fact resembling Harvey Kietel's 'Bad Liutennant' in Abel Fererra's movie. The film is dated by its ghastly electronic soundtrack, and more interestingly by its portrait of New York at a time when the city was at its lowest ebb. But it's a very well assembled thriller, exploring issues of race, mixed loyalties and the meaning of good policing without flinching from a grim picture of life on the margins of law abiding society. Lumet has had a long career, but this is one of his better films, and ultimately more truthful than Hanson's stylish charade. Each are good, in their own way: why is only one so appreciated?