In his attempts to help win a case against a corrupt police captain who has shot a Puerto Rican hood and then rigged the evidence to make it look like self-defense, a young, determined DA aims to get a crime boss to go on record, a crime boss who happens to have become a protector of his former lover.
After the excellent Serpico and Prince Of The City, this is the third in Sydney Lumet’s unofficial trilogy of hard-nosed police procedurals set in his home city, that hotbed of tribal ferocity and corruption known as New York. And if you’ve already sampled the unvarnished moral tension of those films, that a good man is hard to find in a big city, and while Q&A amps up the brute intelligence, and the foul-tongue, it is a clumsier, more punishing film to the point where all the hard-hitting actually leaves you numb.
Yet, you can’t help but applaud Lumet’s determination to say something loud about the cultural mishmash of his city. This is a place slashed up into self-dependant racially defined tribes, testing the borders, pushing for territory: blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians and the all-important Irish, who have the cop-shops sorted. That’s where the plot comes in. Nick Nolte at his most thick-necked and threatening, is a cop with blood on his hands, and has stacked the evidence to make a brutal killing into justifiable homicide. Nolte’s Captain Lt. Brennan, spitting out racial epithets like a cornered cat, is a vicious, corrupt man who can’t see the justice for the fog of bigotry he bullies through. He’s also Irish, and the man against him, Assistant DA Reilly is too, so he’s calling in the loyalty card. Timothy Hutton all fleshy idealism, is given the Q&A, the interrogation of Brennan, by his boss who might be looking for a quick fix. He’s Lumet’s great crusader, but a more diminished voice than Al Pacino’s Serpico.
There is the usual guff about payoffs and fathers on the force, and following the corruption back the source, which while ferociously delivered is pretty stale stuff. Armand Assante, a great actor seldom sung, crops up as a slick criminal (see the comparison — slick hood, brute cop) who might give Reilly what he needs, and bumps about in a subplot involving a former lover they share. It’s very talky, or maybe that should be shouty, but is finally an old song just sung loudly again.
More than an average thriller, but far from Lumet's finest hour.