Film Review: Q & A (1990)

in #aaalast year


Some of the best films in the long and fruitful career of Sidney Lumet dealt with issues of police corruption. The subject itself, however, despite all of Lumet’s skills, couldn’t guarantee that the film would be successful. An example can be found in his 1990 crime drama Q & A.

While Lumet’s previous two films with the similar theme - Serpico and Prince of the City - were based on the real life, this one was based on the novel by Edwin Torres, highly respected New York lawayer who later became New York Supreme Court judge. The plot begins when NYPD Lieutenant Mike Brennan (played by Nick Nolte), highly decorated police detective, shoots and kills small-time Puerto Rican gangster, plants gun on dead body and intimidates witnesses into saying that the act was in self-defence. Aloysius Francis “Al” Riley (played by Timothy Hutton), young assistant district attorney, is ordered by his powerful boss Kevin Quinn (played by Patrick O’Neal) to conduct formal investigation and given “friendly suggestion” to do it in a manner that would absolve Brennan of all wrongdoings. Riley, however, discovers that Brennan was involved in various questionable activities in the past and the detective himself turns out to be arrogant, violent and intimidating racist. Roberto “Bobby Tex” Texador (played by Armand Assante), Puerto Rican gang boss, however, discovers that drag queen Roger Montalvo (played by Paul Calderon) has witnessed the incident and can bring Brennan down. Attempts to secure the testimony would put Riley’s and other peoples’ in danger, because Brennan stops at nothing in order to protect himself and powerful individuals from both sides of the law he was in cahoots with.

Lumet, who also wrote the script, returns to his favourite subject of individual faced with difficult moral choices in modern urban jungle. What complicates such dilemmas in Q & A is local politics based on clear racial and ethnic lines. Protagonist, who is Irish American, is supposed to protect another Irish American at the behest of his Irish American boss who openly clamours for good old days when his ethnic group dominated the city and didn’t have to share power with Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans and blacks. Tribal loyalties, like in so many parts of the world and despite all the talk of multi-ethnic “melting pot” utopia, come at the expense of law, justice and common decency and the protagonist, who tries to do right thing, will inevitably see his quixotic efforts end in failure. An interesting story, is, however, hampered by poor execution.

The first mistake is in casting. Nick Nolte took his role seriously and ebven bothered to gain weight in order to make character of Brennan more intimidating. Yet, his performance as policeman turned into dangerous criminal often goes over the top, especially during bloody finale. Armand Assante, on the other hand, is more subdued and effective as a slick, soft-spoken gangster who tries to go straight. Both performances drown Timothy Hutton whose character, with whom audience is supposed to identify with, looks passive, an impression not helped by Hutton’s performance. Lumet also has serious issues with pacing, making Q & A overlong. Things aren’t helped with melodramatic subplot concerning Riley’s former girlfriend Nancy Bosch (played by Lumet’s daughter Jenny) who, quite unconvincingly, ends up as Texaodr’s partner. But the most disappointing is the latino score by Ruben Blades, Panamian musician (also known as character actor in Hollywood films) which, although easy to listen, plays at the wrong scenes creating the impression that Lumet was detached from the story. Although still watchable and at times entertaining, and definitely better than Lumet’s similarly-themed Night Falls on Manhattan, this film represents disappointment to all who based their expectations on the author’s past glory.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

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Critic: AA

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