Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Get Carter

What About It?

Even bad guys have families, and no matter how rotten a character is, we can sympathize when a crime against that family drives them into action. In the movies, senseless death in the family is often enough to turn the most mild mannered citizen into a killing machine. We don't mind seeing that, since most of us probably imagine we'd feel the same way.

In "Get Carter" we, like Carter himself don't know anything about his brother Frank's murder. We start off with no evidence that it was anything but an accident. Jack Carter must investigate anyway, as he doesn't believe it. Judging by the company he keeps, he has good reason to consider anything bad that happens as suspicious. He's a hit man on retainer for a couple of London gangsters. His idea of having a social life is sleeping with his boss' girlfriend, planning to go to South America with her. There is no sense of "family" loyalty towards his employer. He's somewhat of a free agent, as we see when Gerald tells him not to go check out his brother's situation, and he openly declines to listen. These men don't care for each other much, their alliances based on getting the job done with as little trouble as possible. This is true in London, and in Newcastle where Carter comes from. The only difference between place are the guys in charge. Presumably, Newcastle crime is smaller scale, but we don't really see London for comparison. In any event, they look about the same to Jack Carter. He knows all about the underworld. It's a fact of his life. Its influence has corrupted his whole family. His brother Frank, who we never see, but hear described as nothing like Frank, but "calm as gentle Jesus." while not seeing himself as a gangster, works at a bar owned by a gangster. The closest thing Frank has to a regular girlfriend is a married woman who may be a prostitute. He wasn't a gangster but his life was full of the criminal influence. Unsurprisingly, this also touched his daughter's life starting the sequence of events that led to his death.

Jack Carter is a good guy to pick if you want revenge, but he's not a good guy in any other way. Watching him laugh as he's about to hurt somebody, of after he's done, we know that he's not reluctant about violence, and even enjoys it. He's not one of those hit men who tells himself he only hurts bad guys, he doesn't seem to care about anything but his own desires. Even Frank's death doesn't seem to bother him much. And he pursues his revenge as much out of pride as any emotional attachment.  Even his allies get no special consideration. When Keith the bar employee who assists him is kidnapped, he's not bothered. He simply says "What do you want me to do? I don't know where he is?" He catches up with Keith later and gives him some money for the trouble he had, but he can't help but mock him telling him to spend it on karate lessons. He offers his niece Doreen a place to stay, but doesn't push the issue when she says she's going to stay with friends. As his parting gesture, he gives her some money and tells her not to trust boys. He fulfills his possible duty, but Jack hasn't been to Newcastle in some time, he's not a beloved uncle, but a stranger that Doreen knows just well enough to recognize.

We're not shown much of Jack's past in Newcastle, but there is a hint of it in his associations. Finally fed up with Carter, Keith reveals that he knows more about Jack than he said. Frank told him that Jack slept with his wife and he didn't even know if Doreen was his. Eric's hatred of Jack is obvious immediately, although it doesn't stop Carter from toying with him. It's obvious that he delights in reminding Eric of his grudge, and we can safely assume that whatever happened between them, Carter came out of it far ahead. Eric's resentment is too strong for a minor slight, although they never outright mention what happened. Eric's continued "Still got your sense of humor" comments, imply that Carter made him the butt of a joke at some point.

Carter has a limited sense of duty, but no loyalty at all. Shortly after making love to Glenda, he thinks nothing of throwing her in the trunk, and his expression doesn't even change when the car containing her (still alive) is pushed into the water. He may have been angry that she was involved in Doreen getting into pornography but she wasn't the agent behind it all, or forcing anyone to do anything, she was simply someone doing what she always does.  Carter's relationship with Anna is a betrayal of his boss. And as far as Anna herself goes, he's not even loyal there, calling her his fiancee, but sleeping with any woman he can. He betrays Kinnear, making a deal with him and then planting a body and calling the police. He thinks nothing of betrayal and takes very little seriously, making a joke out of anything he can.

There's no secret do gooder waiting to be revealed, but at the same time, he's not completely inhuman. He appears genuinely shaken on discovering the pornographic film with Doreen in it. But even this can be seen as an affront to his own pride, in the same way that killing his brother was. In fact, Eric seems to view it much the same way, as a side benefit to his actions. We learn that Eric said "Good." when told that Frank was Jack's brother. Still, whatever, Jack's depth of emotion (or lack of) we want him to succeed, because we all understand family. Even though Jack wasn't good to his brother, he gets angry at Margaret when he realizes she isn't the kind of girlfriend he though Frank should have. "I'm the villain in the family." he says, and he certainly believes this. It's his role in the family to be the undependable, untrustworthy one. They weren't close but there was still some connection and that's where the duty comes from.

It should also be said that Jack's traits are not unusual among his peers. We see Brumby betray Kinnear in order to get out of the snare he was caught in. Glenda betrays both Kinnear and Brumby. Margaret betrays Frank and Doreen. And of course Gerald betrays Carter, to pay his own betrayal back. Betrayal seems a big part of Carter's way of living. The important thing is to betray the other guy better than and before he betrays you. That's the world he lives in, and he's well versed in the rules. His revenge never comes across as a noble deed, as much as following the rules of betrayal. If he lets it stand, that would send the wrong message, that he can be insulted without consequence.

He's curious as well, and wants to see the mystery solved. We see him reading "Farewell, My Lovely" on the train ride to Newcastle, and that's certainly no accident. "Get Carter" has a lot in common with a detective story, only replacing Philip Marlowe with one of the thugs that beat him up. Carter and Marlowe both enjoy witty banter, but the similarities end there. Carter doesn't have the governor on his actions that Marlowe did. He'll kill you to get information and may even laugh about it. He belongs in the underworld and aside from the family sympathy, he has other relatable qualities. He's smart and efficient and he actually gets his hands dirty, while the bosses merely give orders. He's good at doing his job, even if it's not an admirable job to have. He's not the only hit man around though, as we see at the end when the cycle of betrayals catches up to him, fortunately just after he finished his mission. He's not immune to his own lifestyle.

"Get Carter" is Mike Hodges' first film, although it doesn't seem like a debut. He manages to get the shady essence of Carter's criminal lifestyle in every part of the film. This world is not a nice place to live, but you can believe that a few blocks over, maybe it's not so bad. We get the sense however, that Carter wouldn't know what to do in a nicer neighborhood. He only knows one way. It was an interesting choice to make the lead character as unsympathetic as Carter, and it's a credit to Michael Caine that despite his rotten nature, he becomes just personal enough, that we still want him to succeed. This is by far my favorite Michael Caine role and watching it again, it's easy to believe that he's still acting today, although the role is very different than the mentor figures he's been playing recently. Here, he's witty, sharp and very dangerous. The film has sparse dialogue, including long stretches where no one says anything at all. As a result, when people talk it counts. Carter especially seems to measure everything he says for maximum impact. Everything is not explained, but we pick up the edge's of the character's back stories, just enough to know how they feel about each other. This adds to the feeling of precision, all the way up to the last action, a sniper pulling the trigger and packing up, the logical end of the story.  The scenery is used to great effect, both urban and natural environments are perfectly used. Even at the beach, there are coal buckets zipping by, as if nothing is really clean.

The supporting actors all hold up very well, especially Ian Hendry as the grudge nursing Eric Paice. You can feel the contempt he has for Carter every time they speak, as well as the knowledge that Carter is dangerous. John Osborne's Kinnear is very entertaining, just to see the smug way he holds a conversation with Carter while toying with someone as he takes all their money. RoseMarie Dunham's portrayal of Edna is  another high point, her alarmed interjections into Carter's situation are all the more amusing after he calls her bluff. Geraldine Moffat's Glenda makes the most of every scene. There isn't a bad performance here even the bar patrons feel like they belong. Like the rest of the film, we're given exactly the elements required to tell this story, but it feels like there's more underneath it.

What Happens?

We find Jack Carter (Michael Caine) at a party hosted by brothers Gerald (Terence Rigby) and Sid Fletcher, (John Bindon,) centered on a pornographic slide show. Gerald tells Carter "We don't want you to go up North, Jack. You work for us." He mentions some connections they have in place that they'd rather Jack not screw up. He asks Carter why he's going. Carter tells him "To find out what happened." He tells Carter, "Look, your brother's dead and gone. They're hard nuts up there, Jack. They won't take kindly to someone from London poking his nose in."
Carter: Too bad.
Gerald: Remember, they're killers. Just like you. The police seem satisfied.
Carter: Since when was that good enough?
Gerald: Think again, Jack.
Carter: I will.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Top Ten Steve McQueen Anti Heroes

Steve McQueen is one of the most iconic actors there is. He often played determined underdog characters that followed their own rules and didn't much care what anyone else had to say. A typical McQueen lead role is a guy that doesn't talk much, but gets things done undeterred by obstacles. Abandoned by mother and father, he had a troubled childhood with many visits to reform school, he once said "If I hadn't made it as an actor, I might have wound up a hood." Fortunately, he did become a star, his tough life providing fuel for his powerful screen persona. He became known for own traits as much as those of any character he portrayed, his love of racing, his girlfriends, and his combative nature. He had a lot in common with his characters, and said that he eventually learned to be ok with the fact that he was typically "playing himself." He never forget where he came from, staying in touch with the California Junior Boys Republic (a reform school)  where he had spent some time as a teen, in an attempt to help those who started out as troubled as he had been. Although he died at fifty years old, his influence remains strong today. Fortunately, he made the movies, so he can go on being the King of Cool forever.

10 Tom Horn, Tom Horn

Tom Horn is a modern twist on the western genre. Based on a true story, Tom Horn is a figure from the Old West, and the a renowned scout from the old frontier days. Offered a job by a local rancher to be a "cattle detective" Horn sets out to deter rustlers by tracking and killing them if need be. Townspeople beome uneasy about him after a public gunfight and the cattle companies realize that they can't be associated with the outrage although he's doing his job very well. Soon his enemies set him up, framing for the murder of a young boy. He barely resists the charges, and his statements are taken out of context to look like a confession. He escapes from prison, but is soon recaptured. Realizing that he's completely out of his element when it comes to modern politics he agrees and goes quietly to his execution for the crime.While this is not one of McQueen's best performances it's still an interesting story and character, Filmed while he was already feeling the cancer that would take him, this is not the Steve McQueen we remember. He seems to know he's beaten through the whole film, and even his talent at killing isn't much use. As much as McQueen
helped define an era, it's somewhat fitting that he would play a character who didn't fit into modern times.

If you really knew how dirty and raggedy-assed the Old West was, you wouldn't want any part of it.

9 Nevada Smith, Nevada Smith

Nevada Smith is a standard western revenge tale. Nevada is a half white, half Indian kid whose parents are murdered by three men Jesse Coe (Martin Landau,) Bill Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy,) and Tom Fitch (Karl Malden) when he's too young and unskilled to do anything about it. Taken in by a man named Jonas Cord (Brian Keith) he learns from him how to handle a gun. He learns every skill necessary to catch up with the killers, having himself thrown in prison and even learning to read in order to settle the score. "Nevada Smith" is a pretty predictable and standard western, but it is interesting to see Steve Mcqueen take the whole journey from helpless kid to competent killer.

You're just not worth killing.

8 Doc McCoy, The Getaway

Doc McCoy is a great bank robber who is granted parole due to the efforts of his wife Carol (Ali McGraw) who sleeps with Sheriff Benyon (Ben Johnson) to ake sure that it happens. Benyon however, also insists that Doc performs a robbery for him, using his own men, Frank and Rudy (Al Lettieri,) as part of the crew. Doc reluctantly accepts having little choice. The Sheriff's men botch the job. Frank and Rudy escape together, although Rudy kills Frank. Doc and Carol also escape and head for their rendezvous point. RUdy attempts to kill them but Doc shoots him and leaves him for dead. Doc and Carol meet with Benyon and find his real plan, The Sheriff brings up his tryst with Carol, and his plan to have her kill Doc. She kills the Sheriff instead. They take off, on the run from Benyon's people, while Rudy is also pursuing them although they still think he's dead. Doc struggles to trust Carol while they try to figure out a way to stay alive. The Getaway is a Sam Peckinpah film and certainly feels like it, using startling violence for effect. McQueen is firmly on the criminal side of the moral compass here, but even so, he's a lot more ethical than Sheriff Benyon, the law figure. He's certainly a convincing action hero, and we don't have a hard time believing he can handle the violence, but trusting his wife is another story.

If you're trying to get me back in Huntsville, you're going about it the right way.


7 Henry Thomas, Baby, The Rain Must Fall

Henry Thomas is a singer in a band, recently paroled. When his wife Georgette (Lee Remick) learns he's out, she comes to join him, bring their daughter along. Raised without a father, he's pressured by his abusive foster mother, Kate Dawson (Georgia Simmons) to stop singing and get a real job. He craves her approval, but she does nothing to support him, instead insisting even on her death bed that he's always been bad. Unable to deal with his issues, his temper gets the better of him and his old habits lead to the same place they always have, while his wife must try to accept that there's little she can do about it, and her best bet is to move on.McQueen here gives a terrific and weighty performance. While he isn't as "cool" here as he is on other films, he is once again playing the outsider. In this case however, the character is ill equipped to function in society. Having only his destructive habits to rely on, he seems destined to end up in prison time and again. His Henry is a real tragedy and thanks to his performance, a sadly believable one.

I'm not going to quit my music! You hear that, old lady?... I'm not going to quit music!

6. Vin Tanner, The Magnificent Seven

In this western remake of "The Seven Samurai" Vin Tanner comes to the aid of Chris (Yul Brynner) attempting to bury an Indian in the town cemetery, despite local protests that only whites are buried there. The two of them agree to help some visitors from a small Mexican village at the mercy of Calvera, (Eli Wallach) a bandit who frequently raids their village. They and five other gunmen follow the visitors back to their village, and all fortheirown reasons, assist them in getting rid of Calvera. This another all star cast similar to "The Great Escape," thistime including, RobertVaughan, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Here, McQueen is once again a standout almost taking the lead from Yul Brynner as the most well rounded and all around reliable character.

We deal in lead, friend.

5 Capt. Hilts "The Cooler King" The Great Escape

Capt. Hilts is one in a group of Allied POW's in a German WWII prison camp. Nicknamed "The Cooler King" since his behavior gets him many stints in the cooler, a version of solitary confinement. Led by Roger Bartlett, the Allied prisoners resolve to committ as many escape attempts as possible for two reasons; to escape, and to keep the German soldiers busy with them and away from the war. Hilts attempts his own escapes, which keep attention from the main plan, to dig a tunnel. ALthough the attempts have some success, nearly everyone is recaptured and most are killed, including 50 in a mass execution. McQueen is great here in an all star cast including, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. His portrayal of Hilts is the best representation of the camp's determination to escape. While most of the camp works in concert, he's typically the wild card, his actions being relied on to draw attention away from others.

Sir, let me know the exact information you need. I'm going out tonight.

4 Eric Stoner, The Cincinatti Kid

Eric Stoner is the Cincinnati Kid, a talented and promising Poker player who wants to be the best. He's coached by his friend and once contender, Shooter (Karl Malden,) who helps him set up a game with Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson,) the man to beat if he wants to be the best there is. He's offerred a lot of assistance as Howard has his enemies, chiefly from a man named Slade (Rip Torn) who was humiliated by Lancey Howard in another game. He blackmails a dealer to give the Cincinnati Kid an edge. At the big game, The Cincinnati Kid discovers the cheating and insists that it be stopped, trusting in his own luck. When his demands aren't met, he insists on a change of dealers. The game between Howard goes back and forth finally coming down to the cards, leaving the Kid with his integrity perhaps, but wondering about his luck. Another role perfect for McQueen, The Cincinatti Kid is another guy stubbornly following his own kid. Very talented and full of confidence, he's flawed as well, and we wonder about his distinctions. He insists on only winning through his own luck, yet cheats on his girlfriend in a break from a poker game. While for some characters that may not be significant, for this character and the importance he places on his code, it's tough not to wonder if he changed his own luck.

Listen, Christian, after the game, I'll be The Man. I'll be the best there is. People will sit down at the table with you, just so they can say they played with The Man. And that's what I'm gonna be, Christian.

3. Papillon

Henri "Papillon" Charriere a bank robber, is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, to be served at an island penal colony. He quickly becomes friends with counterfeiter Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman,) who is an interesting foil for Papillon, relying on his brains, and physically limited, they reach a deal where Papillon  looks out for Dega who has many enemies, if Dega will fund Papillon's escape plans. He escapes but is soon caught and punished for refusing to give up Dega as his financial backer. He quickly comes up with another escape plan and this time takes Dega with him. They're soon separated however and when Papillon is eventually caught he gets five years of solitary and then sent to "Devil's Island" an inescapable prison where he's reunited with Dega and has to decide whether he's done with escape attempts or not. An interesting role and perfect for McQueen in that despite knowing he's a bank robber (although not a murderer he claims) we're asked to put that aside and accept his own code of morality, which here, is basically not being willing to endure the cruel conditions of imprisonment. His determination to escape even though it's impossible is the drive of the movie, along with the long lasting friendship between Papillon and Dega.

Me, they can kill. You, they own!

2. Jake Holman, The Sand Pebbles

Jake Holman is an engineer transferred to the U.S.S. San Pablo, (nicknamed the Sand Pebbles) a gunboat on the Yangtze River in China. Not fond of the Chinese, who are doing most of the work on board the ship, or the standard maintenance practices, which leave a lot to be desired, he insists on working the engine room himself. His insistence on a repair leads to him being blamed for the death of the Chinese engine room boss who was assisting. In training Po-Han (Mako,) the dead man's replacement, his opinion of the Chinese starts to broaden and he actually makes a friend. The friendship comes to a sad end when Po-Han  is captured and tortured and Holman shoots him to end his misery as he has no other options. His shipmate and friend, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough) falls in love and marries a Chinese woman, and is killed sneaking off the ship to see her. His wife is killed as well and the Communists frame Holman for it, adding to the U.S/ Chinese tension by demanding Holman be turned over to China, which the Captain refuses to do. They have the opportunity to leave, but the Captain decides instead on a dangerous rescue mission which leads to Holman making some tough decisions. Probably McQueen's most challenging role, Holman is on the surface an unlikable racist who can't along with others. In his interactions with others, we see that there is more depth to him than he willingly presents. He cares a lot more than he'd admit, although this doesn't typically lead to good things for him.

I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?

1. Lt. Frank Bullitt, Bullitt

Lt. Frank Bullitt is a cop who helped define the "Loose Cannon Cop" in films ever since. The role seems tailor made for McQueen, a stoic loner forced to try and outwit the system he works for just to do his job right. He loves his car but has no idea how to handle a relationship. Assigned a protection gig for a witness against a crime family, he watches as things go off the rails faster than should be possible and he ends up in a political danger as wells as physical. His true adversary in the film is ambitious politician, Chalmers (Robert Vaughan) who tries to sell Bullitt on compromising his integrity to advance his career, which is unsurprisingly not effective. Featuring one of the most memorable car chases in film history, terrific action sequences and a great backdrop for McQueen to be cool, determined, and detached while bringing in the bad guys.

Look, Chalmers, let's understand each other... I don't like you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Prince of the City

What About It?

We've all seen plenty of "dirty cop gives up his former partners" movies by now. Sometimes it's an honest cop who won't play ball with the others in his department, (as in Lumet's earlier film "Serpico") other times it's a bad cop trying to avoid his own punishment by giving up others. "Prince of the City" gives us a different set up from the very first scene, that of Officer Danny Ciello (Treat Williams) unable to sleep. Danny isn't under investigation at all, he's bothered by dealing with the misery of junkies and drug dealers, while at the same time profiting from their misfortune. Despite his and his partners' illegal side activities, the idea of being a cop means something to Danny. He tells the Chase Commission Attorney Cappalino that the day he became a cop was the happiest day of his life. It's since dawned on him that he hasn't lived up to what being a cop was all about.

When he meets Cappalino, he's fascinated with the idea of redeeming himself somehow, but knows he can't talk without hurting his partners. Watching him struggle with the opportunity that's almost in his grasp, we get a revealing look at him. He calls Cappalino twice and meets with him only to repeat his insistence that cops are all good. He knows what he has to do, but he needs time to talk himself into it. He needs assurances, and to hear the right things.

One thing that this film really gets across better than any film of it's kind is the bond between partners. These men are the very best of friends rather than the usual characters you'd find in a film like this, greedy cops just waiting to turn on each other. When anyone takes money, they all split it evenly, even with Bando, the weakest of them, who they always leave outside. When they discover that Danny's getting cops indicted, they don't hold a grudge, they know him too well for that. Faced with the knowledge that Danny told everything,  they don't try to kill him, they just make their own choices with that information. Danny is family, and his actions can't be undone. They don't like it, but not one of his partners ever even calls Danny a "rat." He's the same guy they've always known.

Ciello is assured that he won't have to turn on his partners, but once he becomes a part of the larger system, it becomes clear that it will be inevitable. Danny points out that they're singling out cops because "cops are easy." Cappalino agrees and wishes they weren't. He tells Danny that he'd be glad to hear about corrupt lawyers and judges, and certainly some efforts are spent in that direction. Danny tells them he's done "three things" while heading his SIU, a necessary strategy, to protect his partners. He's cautioned against perjuring himself, but he's perjured himself before, as have most of his fellow officers, in order to get convictions. Nobody calls him on it, because he's helping them get convictions.

His efforts get people promoted, good fortune that only adds to Danny's real troubles. He was able to get off the fence and act in no small part because of the rapport he'd built with Cappalino and Brooks. Once they're promoted out of the daily picture, he becomes just another cog in the machinery. Men like Santimassino and Attorney Polito have no loyalty towards him, and look forward to indicting him even as he's working with them. He didn't make their careers. To them, he's just another dirty cop, and they're not entirely wrong. It's asking a lot to expect a presumably upright attorney to revere a dirty cop just because he's helping them get other cops. They're eager to use him for their own ends, picking up their grudges when they get what they want. Loyalty is important in this story, and Danny's main redeeming quality (until he gives that up.)

This is a world where indictments are only numbers to the men seeking them. Danny doesn't quite understand this, as his heart breaks for the junkies he works with. His behavior, even when reprehensible is very human. When he decides to help Cappalino, he doesn't come across as noble. He's a guy who doesn't know which end is up, finally getting some sense of direction. Treat Williams makes this a very interesting role. He doesn't give us a super cop or even a very tough one. His Ciello is a guy two steps away from falling apart. He's told quite a few times that he "worries too much." and it's hard to disagree. He appears anxious every second, unsure of what to do next and having no idea what anyone else will do. He's very human above all else and it's surprising that he's able to make any progress without getting killed. He delights in telling suspicious parties "yeah, I'm wearing a wire." as if it's a ridiculous idea, when he is in fact wearing one.

He doesn't consider that his cousin Nick will pay the consequences for being involved with his activities. At times it's uncomfortable to watch him as he looks so ill at ease. Brooks and Cappalino discuss his habit of not carrying his gun any more, wondering if that's his decision not to fight it if he gets caught. For this character that seems plausible. He has more guilt than he knows what to with and he doesn't even understand it. As corrupt as he is, he's also impossibly naive to think that he could work for the Commission and not implicate his partners. That's likely a willful if not conscious lack of foresight, to enable him to do something. He's used to playing by his own rules, as a "prince of the city." As could be applied to anyone in the system he works for, he's been "judged by results." Convictions as just numbers is the logic that kept his unit going strong. He seeks to escape that by working for Cappalino, but finds that same logic again, only this time he's the equivalent of the junkie informant.

"Prince of the City" doesn't really answer this dilemma. It's not likely to encourage any dirty cops to come forward, but should we feel bad that a dirty cop doesn't get a get out of jail free card? Not really, but then again, he's been used as a valuable tool. Should he be rewarded for coming forward of his own free will? It does seem to mean more than someone who was pressured, but this is a movie about a system that only sees results, and whether pressured or through free will, the results would likely be the same. Ciello's squad is not the worst of the worst, they don't kill people, they just steal money and keep their informants supplied with drugs in a pinch. We're not told how it started, but we're told that it has been accepted for some time, even expected. Everyone in this film knows that cops dealing with Narcotics are dirty. Their behavior is no secret to anyone. What's new here is the effort put forth to stop it.

Ciello is attacked in court for perjury in an effort to overturn a conviction of a very corrupt lawyer. What do we want to happen? He did commit serious perjury, and the lawyer was convicted. Should it be overturned? We know the lawyer was corrupt. The judge decides that Ciello's perjury was not central to that conviction, as fair an outcome as we could ask, leaving the matter of Ciello's indictment to a separate hearing behind closed doors. Ultimately, a few men show their loyalty. They used Ciello, they can't just throw him away. Attorney Vincente threatens to resign over it. Vincente, Cappalino and Brooks are heard enough to help dismiss the idea. In coming forward on his own, they believe that he was trying to do the right thing and he didn't know enough about the system to avoid the problems he ran into. As Cappalino points out, the road to corruption was a gradual one, but the road back is made in one big leap without all the information.

Visually the film has an almost documentary style, giving us a rough looking New York City and putting our focus on the characters who work there. It feels like it could have as easily been a stage production, but the story and the acting are top notch. Treat Williams is perfectly cast in one of his best roles, and Jerry Orbach is terrific as Gus Levy, the only cop that isn't in the least intimidated by the Commission. The strength of the film is in the characters and their relationships, Ciello with his partners and then with Cappalino and lastly Vincente. Ciello needs a voice in his ear to function and he's lucky enough to find some people with genuine regard for him. Even a dirty cop has something if he has good friends, and he has that at least. His friends are likely headed for prison, but all the same it's good to see those relationships presented realistically, disappointment rather than oaths of revenge.

We're left without a neat little bow to wrap it up. Ciello helped the government convict dirty cops because he felt tortured by what the was doing, but in doing so he betrayed everyone close to him as he swore he would never do. In a way he's back where he started, having learned that the Chase Commission is "not his friend." The audience can be happy that many dirty cops were put away, but it's unlikely that Ciello will be happy any time soon, which is perhaps as it should be, some things can't be absolved that easily. The other good thing to take away is that you don't have to be Danny Ciello.

Lumet was a director who often presented stories where humanity isn't something that's rewarded by the system that regulates it. "Prince of the City" visits the same territory as "12 Angry Men," "Serpico," and "Dog Day Afternoon" among so many others. These are worlds where certain people have to work awfully hard to get any sense of the right thing to do and if you happen to be the wrong person, maybe there's no answer at all.   While many subscribe to the idea that if you can't present a solution you shouldn't complain about a problem, Lumet clearly did not agree, and did us all a service by pointing at aspects of the problem we may not have considered, one of them being that honest cops and dirty cops both have some serious problems trying to work in the system, and there's always more corruption somewhere. It's interesting though, that Ciello the dirty cop, seemed to get off a little easier than Serpico the honest cop. If there's any lesson to be learned here, it's just that this isn't a system you want to trust with your fate. The stubborn voice of humanity comes through eventually, thanks to Cappalino and Vincente, but it's nowhere close to a sure thing in a system built for numbers, that rewards those who see in black and white, although the fates of so many exist in between those extremes.

What Happens?

Danny (Treat Williams) is the head of SIU (Special Investigative Unit) in New York City. He leads a tight knit group of cops, Dom Bando (Kenny Marino,) Joe Marinaro, (Richard Foronjy,) Bill Mayo, (Don Billett,) and Gus Levy, (Jerry Orbach) who he refers to collectively as his partners. They conduct narcotics busts efficiently working very much unsupervised. Taking drugs and money from the bad guys is all a part of the operation. They also have a network of informants consisting mostly of junkies. These aren't cops who steal drugs to feed their own habits, it's more of a practicality. They have to keep their informants happy, a difficult task if they don't have their fix. The money is another matter and that goes to keeping them in nice houses and wearing the best clothes. They also reason that taking the money is the best way to get rid of the bigger operators. They have a system, any time money is taken, it's divided evenly between everyone in the unit. This is how it works every single day. They do manage to put away a lot of drug dealers, as their unit is known for it's spectacular results. Ciello's partners are his best friends, even when they're not working they get together for cookouts.