Q & A (Lumet, 1990) + Trollhunter, The Robber, Win Win

Reviews for The Troll Hunter, The Robber and Win Win on soundonsight.org:




Now for the film at hand.  My mini-Lumet marathon is slowly moving along.  Watching Lumet films that I haven’t seen before is a strange experience.  It’s not quite as big an event as watching, say, an unseen Fellini, but it’s bigger than an unseen Alan Pakula.

I wonder how many posthumous years it will take for Lumet to slowly climb that directorial canon?  He’s already mentioned as a great, but when will his name be said in a breathless whisper?  If you make one masterpiece aren’t you a great director?  Lumet’s made at least five (Dog Day Afternoon, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Network, 12 Angry Men, The Pawnbroker) not to mention at least seven others that are just short of true greatness.

Q & A is not a masterpiece.  It’s seriously flawed at times.  But it’s also a fantastic racial commentary and a consistently suspenseful story.

Why are late-80s and early-90s casts always so funny to me?  They’re far funnier than any other small sample of years.  This film is no exception.  Nick Nolte + Luis Guzman + Timothy Hutton + Armand Assante = an odd cavalcade of slight over-actors and poor accents that somehow mishes and mashes its way into success by the end.

Is 1990 the year for directors getting pretty horrific performances from their daughters in starring roles?  Everyone knows about Sofia Coppola’s grimace-inducing turn in The Godfather III.  Jenny Lumet does her father proud (and by proud I mean embarrassed in hindsight) via her Nancy Bosch in Q & A.

Why is it that said daughterly roles are also emotionally charged?  It’s one thing to exercise a little nepotism.  It’s another to give Sofia and Jenny mentally draining scenes involving tears, dramatic pauses, and the highs and lows of a melodrama.  Neither hits it.  Jenny’s performance is, unfortunately, laughable.

The plot is simple: Nolte plays Mike Brennan – a crooked cop.  Hutton is Al Reilly – a gung-ho attorney.  Deep-rooted corruption and racism are revealed as Reilly’s investigation moves beyond the initial cold-blooded shooting of a murder suspect.

Q & A finds success in the way that it refuses to leave anyone innocent.  Reilly may be be idealistic and young, but there’s racism even beyond those pale blue eyes.  Detective Chapman (Charles Dutton) may be an African-American cop who keeps his mouth shut and does his job, but he refuses to give up Brennan even when the race card is played.  Attorney Leo Bloomenfeld (Lee Richardson) may represent good and always have an ear at the ready for Reilly, but he refuses to prosecute the ills of the system beyond convenience.  In fact, the only true innocent in Q & A might be Nancy Bosch, who just drifts around, well aware of the racist world she lives in.  But she has a flaw too: she stands by her murdering, drug-dealing man (Armand Assante…an accent as bad as Postelwaithe’s in The Usual Suspects?) through thick and thin.  Loyalty, yes.  Intentional naivety?  Likely.

Lumet’s technique in Q & A is fluid at its best.  Consider a scene where Chief Kevin Quinn (Patrick O’Neal) debriefs Reilly:

The camera is behind Reilly with Quinn in the background.  A sort of over-the-shoulder 2-shot.  Blocking.  Quinn stands at a semi-critical moment and walks towards Reilly.  Quinn sits on the edge of the desk as he imparts valuable knowledge.  He then walks around Reilly and back to his desk where he originally sat.

Throughout, the camera follows him, ultimately changing the 180 line.

What’s the point of this blocking (actor’s movement)?  If you watch it on mute and in fast-forward it looks downright goofy.  Quinn walks a semi-circle.  He approaches Reilly’s desk for no reason.  Sits, then stands and returns to his own desk for no reason.

A skilled director and actor can make this look natural and, with the sound on, it does so.  But still, why bother?

On one hand, it adds some visual interest to the film.  On another hand, it brings Quinn, a threatening presence throughout the film, literally closer to Reilly.  Quinn rapidly closes the distance.  The act of sitting on Reilly’s desk is not threatening, but the closeness implies a sort of willingness on Quinn’s part to insinuate himself into any situation, no matter.

Imagine the same scene if Quinn were to stay put at his own desk.  He’d read as much more passive.  The men would be on even ground.

Why change the 180 line?  In part because it’s convenient – Quinn rounds Reilly and the camera, in order to keep Quinn in frame, must move with him.  But the 180 line also changes to very (VERY) subtly add a slight degree of disorientation and disorder in the room.  It’s subconscious and not easily noticed, but once Quinn returns to his desk and the camera is now focusing on the scene from Reilly’s right side rather than his left, we’re left with a small idea of spatial confusion.  It lasts for a split second, but it’s long enough to echo Reilly’s own feelings.


About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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