Award-winning director, Sidney Lumet died from lymphoma at the weekend aged 86.
With a career spanning fifty years
and over forty films Lumet was famous for shooting most of his films in the Big
Apple and for drawing out some exceptional acting performances from the best
actors in the business. Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, Al Pacino in Serpico
and Paul Newman in The Verdict show just how impressive a director
he was; no doubt Michael Mann cites his work as a strong influence. His
penultimate film, Find Me Guilty even managed to produce a decent
Vin Diesel performance, but which films will be he best remembered for?
Lumet’s first film 12 Angry Men
(1957) is probably the benchmark all other courtroom dramas are now judged
against. A master class in acting, Henry Fonda’s stars as a righteous juror who
does his best to ensure justice prevails by swaying his fellow jurors’
conscience pas t prejudice towards the right decision. That John Cusack tried it again recently
to lesser effect in John Grisham’s Runaway Jury adaptation
shows its influence still.
The Seventies will be known as
Lumet’s most fertile period behind the camera with three career-defining films
for the director. Firstly, the superb Serpico (1973) teamed him up
with a young Al Pacino to tell the true story of an idealistic police officer railing
against his fellow officers’ extortion from criminals in the NYPD.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) reunited
him with the star to tell another true story, this time with a twist to the
usual heist movie. Pacino played Sonny Wortzik, the mastermind behind a bank
robbery in which he’s determined to steal money to pay for his gay lover’s sex
change operation. When he discovers there’s no money left in the vault things
change from a routine cash grab to a media-focused hostage scenario.
Network (1977) followed
the year after; a satirical drama which sees TV execs exploit Peter Finch’s
enraged anchorman after an on-air outburst in which he threatens to kill himself.
In an age where ratings rule the airwaves and Big Brother refuses to go quietly,
Network still has plenty to say about morality, greed and our obsession with
The Great unwatched
While it’s fair to say that the
majority of Lumet’s 80s and 90s output failed to live up to earlier work, Prince
of the City (1981) stands out, epitomising his earlier work best. A great
companion piece to Serpico, it revisits those themes of
corruption in the NYPD force. Here
Treat William’s stars as Daniel Ciello, a dirty cop offered immunity for
rooting out wrong-doing among his fellow officers whatever the consequences.
After a string of less successful
works, and a surprisingly gritty performance by Vin Diesel in 2006’s Find Me
Guilty, Lumet went out on a high with the following year’s Before the Devil
Knows You’re Dead.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan
Hawke star in a similar premise to Dog Day Afternoon, this time
robbing Dad’s jewellery store instead. Murderous chaos ensues in what can now
be viewed as a typically actor-focused and thoroughly fitting Lumet swansong.