The one thing Q & A has going for it the entire time is in the form of its atmosphere; it's utterly, utterly effective atmosphere that is very much present due to one thing: we know exactly what the character of Brennan (Nolte) has done but Reilly (Hutton), who is supposed to find out exactly what the situation is, doesn't. This is an interesting idea and a bit of a spin to put on the pretty bog-standard situation of your standard, 1980s to early 1990s internal affairs cop thriller. What works is that we, the audience, have a position of power that the characters in the film do not; thus the hero (Reilly) has to work things out but we don't, however we will be with him all the way to see if he is able to crack it. Alternatively, what the audience do know is exactly what Brennan knows which perhaps lures the audience into false identification.
I think director Lumet, who is certainly well accomplished; most definitely by the time this was made, wanted to make a bit of a noir out of this idea. He shoots the film in such a way that has the hero go on his own personal quest of discovery, even if that discovery is one he might not even want to discover given the truth behind it; Lumet also injects several different types of characters into the story: the hard bodied cop in Brennan who is harder than the hero himself (an interesting spin on things); a South American drug baron and his bodyguards; an old flame who is somehow connected to the baron; a homosexual singer/performer and some allies to the upstanding hero, two of whom are 'Chappie' Chapman (Dutton) and Luis Valentin (Guzmán). Q & A works as a noir-come-internal affairs crime story because it combines things we're familiar with but injects them with, arguably, an auteur's own personal approach. Reilly as a hero seems venerable but smart given his history with the female character now connected with the drug baron and the script consistently pumps out quality one-liners, the majority of which are spouted by Brennan.
Adding to the noir pointers, it rains a lot in the film but it's significant as to when it rains. Reilly's reunification in the car with his old flame happens after the baron has threatened him to stay away from her thus creating tension; he has done something he shouldn't have after someone of a superior rank has told him not to. But the meeting in the car, although very well placed given the inclusion of the rain, allows us to see deeper into the past of said couple's relationship. It turns out the flame mistook (or perhaps she didn't) a look Reilly gave her father upon seeing he was black, something that obviously points to bigotry. But then again, the film is racist without ever really demeaning any race, religion or ethnic group. Certainly, the level of racism in the dialogue is rather high but when one of Reilly's friend's is in the bar telling him how much of a 'great man' the chief of homicide is, the element of hate is built up through the script and our opinions of a character alternate without him even being on screen. It's also worth saying that when you have a film which contains a character both black and homosexual, one of which is also physically weak the majority of people will have a field day going up in arms over it; but I felt the film steered away from any sort of stereotyping and thus does its best to create a realistic character without any aim to offend. It's worth saying here that director Lumet directed 12 Angry Men, a film that was all about fighting for what's right whether black, Spanish-American or whatever.
So Q & A is a courtroom drama set outside the court; a noir that it in colour and made in the 1990s; your not so average, everyday cop thriller from the 1980s-90s and your entertaining, compelling detective novel stretched across 130 minutes complete with colourful characters, hate, love, regret and humorous one-liners and insults. Brennon is perhaps the star but given the audience know exactly what he knows throughout several of the scenes, it's almost as if he's the star. Yes, he's mean and spiteful; yes, he intimidates and goes below the belt but if anything, I read people saying: 'watch it for Nolte'. Good call, he's almost the hero given what we know and Reilly doesn't but that's the apparent genius of Q & A: you have your detective cordon, your love cordon and your hard bodied bully cordon. I could recommend Q & A for a number of things, including a re-watch just to clarify a few things but do not let a complicated plot at all put you off seeing it.