Night Falls On Manhattan

on May 16, 1997 by Jean Oppenheimer
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   Corruption, within both the police department and the legal system, has provided fertile ground for Sidney Lumet in the past; witness "Serpico," "Prince of the City" and "Verdict." With "Night Falls on Manhattan," Lumet again sets out to explore issues of personal and public responsibility, moral compromise, culpability and the nature of justice. But this time, as with 1990's disappointing "Q&A," he stumbles.
   This Spelling production concerns an idealistic young street cop turned Manhattan district attorney (Andy Garcia) whose moral principles are tested during an investigation into police corruption. The fact that Garcia's character goes from being a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer to DA so quickly is only one of many implausible, if not downright unbelievable, plot points upon which the story rests. Another is the mind-boggling naivete of Garcia's Sean Casey (the Irish name itself proves a stretch, although a gravestone conveniently reveals that his mother's maiden name was Nunoz). Also thrown into the mix is a pointless romantic subplot involving a civil rights attorney (Lena Olin). Not only does the love affair add nothing in terms of plot or character development, but there is a complete lack of chemistry between Garcia and Olin.
   Heavy on melodrama and scenery-chewing performances (especially by Ron Liebman as a DA responsible for Garcia's fast rise), the film at least tries to tackle important issues: the collapse of traditional morality in America, the nature of justice in a corrupt world, the conflict between the greater good and the moral infractions sometimes necessary to achieve it, and the price to both the public and the individual of making those compromises.    Starring Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss and Lena Olin. Directed and written by Sidney Lumet. Produced by Thom Mount and Josh Kramer. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 110 min
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