Prince of the City Sidney Lumet

In the "behind the scenes” look at Sidney Lumet’s forgotten nugget, Prince of the City, the director mentions the mixed reviews and poor box office take that his film opened to. It isn’t hard to imagine how this tense and atmospheric portrait of a corrupt cop got lost in the shuffle back in 1981, which was a transitional period of sorts. While Prince of the City is a rich and meticulous character study in the fashion of the finest gritty dramas from the golden ’70s, it was headlined by the melodramatic tough cop that the ’80s seemed to have had a hard on for. Caught between these two very different eras, the film seemed to have slipped into an elapsed vault and remained there until now, reappearing on a new double-disc DVD. Based on the true story of Robert Leuci (who also appears on the "behind the scenes” featurette), Prince of the City is a finely detailed and sprawling account of a corrupt undercover narcotics cop, Danny Ciello (Treat Williams in a performance that he has never matched), who seeks redemption by "turning.” Seeking freedom from his own guilt, Ciello goes undercover to expose other crooked cops amongst the NYPD. What begins as a few routine wiretap jobs quickly expands into years of bureaucratic paper work, repeated cross-examinations, endless legal squabbles, death threats and finally, Ciello being forced to betray his own partners. It’s an ambitious project from Lumet, a man that sat amongst the monarchs of the ’70s with films like Serpico, which Prince closely resembles, Dog Day Afternoon and Network, and whose sure-fire direction and talent for eliciting solid performances find a worthy showcase in this film. Yet the filmmaker takes a few ill-advised turns in the extensive 167-minute narrative, which favours the macho and the melodramatic. So, while the film is still worthwhile viewing, these regrettable choices make us wonder what kind of masterpiece Prince of the City would have been had it appeared just two years earlier and steered clear of the ’80s. (Warner)