NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN sports a great title, a good cast and top-notch director. Too bad the 1996 effort went mostly for naught, as—after a decent beginning—it alternately lurches and meanders to a shrug. Been there, and better.
When an NYPD take-down of notorious drug thug ‘Jordan Washington’ (Shiek Mahmud-Bey) ends in a messed-up and deadly shootout, the prosecution of said gangsta falls to ‘Sean Casey’ (Andy Garcia), sharp young-blood attorney (and ex-cop) on the staff of flashy District Attorney ‘Mogenstern’ (Ron Leibman). Handily winning the case, Sean also captures the affection of ‘Peggy Lindstrom’ (Lena Olin), who works for defense hotshot ‘Sam Vigoda’ (Richard Dreyfuss). One of the detectives wounded in the incident is Casey’s father ‘Liam’ (Ian Holm), whose partner ‘Joey Alegretto’ (James Gandolfini) might have more in his file than would make everyone concerned relax.
Knocking out the screenplay off ex-cop-turned-writer Robert Daley’s novel “Tainted Evidence”, Sidney Lumet directed. With his mostly stellar track record of New York City crime sagas, including the brilliant Prince Of The City (from Daley), bets were on Lumet to score another winner to join the likes of his Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon or The Verdict.
But this unsteady 109-minute stew bubbles in the director’s lower-rank efforts like Q & A, Power and A Stranger Among Us. Some of the acting sparks—intense Dreyfuss (channeling William Kuntsler) and natural powerhouse Gandolfini have ample energy and Leibman, especially, flares up fiercely in his few scenes as the driven D.A.
Though there’s nothing wrong with his accent, Holm seems out-of-place (and it doesn’t sell at all that he’s Garcia’s old man). Lena Olin could simply stand there/say nothing and be compelling, but she’s just wasted here in a shallow role; the quick-bunny romance between her and Garcia doesn’t hold water, let alone heat up any. Andy Garcia cut neat grooves as a mysterious and dangerous supporting character (The Godfather III, The Untouchables), but he didn’t register with the same impact as a lead. The script is full of likelihood holes and tiresome hot air, the pacing and editing are dulled, the payoff has zip resonance. Mark Isham’s narcoleptic music score sets a recessed tone from the get-go. Earnings came to $9,889,670 domestically, a dismal 125th place for the year.*
Supporting cast is loaded with familiar faces, several of whom, like co-star Gandolfini, would become known for work in The Sopranos—Dominic Chianese, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent—as well as dependables Colm Feore, Paul Guilfoyle, Richard Bright, Bobby Cannavale (his debut, and, at the time, Lumet’s son-in-law).
* Lumet’s return to cop corruption joined a large number of crime-oriented films that, for one reason or another, didn’t do well in ’96: Heaven’s Prisoners, Last Man Standing, Extreme Measures, Diabolique, The Chamber, Ghosts Of Mississippi, Mulholland Falls, Two Days In The Valley, Bound, Kansas City, Bread and Wine.