Sidney Lumet returns to the complex and interwoven worlds of New York City police and criminals in his grand-scale film PRINCE OF THE CITY. The cops from the Special Investigative Unit are known as Princes of the City, wor... more »king out of uniform and closely together, like a renegade family, peppering their drug-fighting duties with payoffs and behind-the-scenes drug deals of their own. Lumet's complex and operatic film commences with just such a deal, with Danny Ciello (played with swaggering magnetism by Treat Williams) and his squad busting a group of Colombian drug lords and netting themselves a clean $48,000 on the side. When Ciello is called in for questioning by the Chase Commission investigating police corruption--like Serpico before him--the seeds of doubt and guilt lead him into a dangerous game of truth and lies as he begins to inform on his colleagues. At first the adrenaline gleaned from the illegal activities of the SIU carries over to the equally dangerous tasks of ensnaring his fellow cops; however; as the countdown to redemption and revenge becomes fever-pitched, Ciello's resolve begins to crumble, so does his carefully constructed world of family, informants, stool pigeons, and partners.« less
"This is a film that was inexcusably blown off at the Oscars. It richly deserved the awards it never received. Lifted straight from the book with only minor name changes, Prince of the City was a compelling look into the world of a narcotics detective as he brings about his unit's downfall. Danny Cielo (Treat Williams) is the cop who belatedly develops a conscience and rebels against what he and his men have become in their war on drugs; they've corrupted themselves to nail the corrupt and maintain their fantastically high arrest and conviction rate.
At first, Cielo has no intention of turning in his unit. He actually tries only to go after the criminals. However, in making a deal with the feds he's made a deal with the devil. The prosecutors realize they have a gold mine in Cielo and dig into him for all the information they can obtain. Little by little, the circle tightens like a noose around Cielo until he ends up fingering his mentor, then his own men. For a cop to rat on fellow cops is a deeply imprinted anamoly, an affront to the brotherhood that binds the police more tightly than blood ties. Cielo disintegrates under the pressure and agonies of his betrayals, shaking and crying, popping Valium to alleviate his tortured guilt. Around him, his men rat each other out and one even commits suicide. Only one is strong enough to withstand the feds: Gus Levy (Jerry Orbach), who marches into the office of a weasely prosecutor to tip his desk onto him and offers to toss him through the window of his high-rise building. At the end, Levy despises Cielo for his decision, and though Danny has done the right thing in the eyes of the law, he suffers as a pariah in the view of some of his fellow police officers.
This is a great piece of cinema. The direction is tight, the acting fantastic, and the dialogue heavily laced with coarse language that deepens the realism. Treat Williams never again received a role or acted so well as he did in this film. Jerry Orbach was so immersed in his part that Dick Wolf wanted him as a detective on Law & Order after seeing him portray Gus Levy. Sidney Lumet sculpted this movie into an intense drama that, while long, is never boring. Done by Lumet as an apology for his hatchet job on the NYPD in Serpico, this film succeeds in more ways than mere atonement; it is brilliant in its own right and ends more ambiguously, letting the viewer sort out who did the right thing. This is an excellent movie, highly recommended for those who enjoy tough moral dilemmas and superb cinema craftsmanship."
Lumet's Greatest Film
Mr. Cairene | Cairo, Egypt | 06/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There once was a kingdom ruled over by a fair and righteous king. One day, an evil witch descended upon the well from which the people drank, and poisoned the water. The very next day everyone but the righteous king drank the poisoned water. And they all went insane. All but the king that is. For several days after, the people wondered aloud, "What happened to our king," they shouted in the streets, "Has he gone insane?" So the king went and drank from the poisoned water, and everything was well again. That is the story Al Pacino's girlfriend tells him late in "Serpico", Sidney Lumet's celebrated 1973 true-life tale about police corruption and one's man's obstinate stand against it. Apart from Pacino's performance as Frank Serpico, that film was a compromised moral drama, thrown haphazardly together to fit a commercial running time. The success of "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) and "Network" (1976) then allowed Lumet to make Prince of The City, unquestionably his greatest work, and worthy of the story of the king. As a piece of narrative it ignores all the established rules: There are no acts (first, second or third). There are no heroes, and no villains. There are no gun battles or showdowns. This, for its entire three hour running time, is an account of a cop who decides to blow the whistle on corruption, and the legal repercussions that ensue. Unlike Serpico, Det. Daniel Ciello (Treat Williams) is no saint. He does what, in his view, needs to be done. And given the nature of power, a lot more. On his own accord, he heads to the Chase commission, where he decides to "do the right thing", and confess. His one condition? He won't rat on his partners. He knows them to be good men. We see them at his luxurious two-story house. They are cordial, pleasant, brotherly. When he states his condition to the government lawyers, he says, "I sleep with my wife. But I live with my partners." Except the forces that be don't see things the way he does. Ciello and his partners are the Special Investigative Unit for Narcotics, the "Princes of the city". They have citywide jurisdiction and are virtually unsupervised. When they make a bust they A) Keep the drug dealer's money. B) Sell the drug dealer his freedom. Or C) Arrest him and take his money. They have reasons too. You see, a drug dealer without money would never be able to buy another cop, a DA or a judge. And if they don't have enough evidence to convict anyway, they may as well have the money. This group of cops, as they have no doubt explained to themselves, tens if not hundreds of times, have a moral right to scam the dealers. They have a moral imperative to keep their junkie stoolies (snitches) supplied with Heroin. Yes they do this for the information, but also because, "a junkie will break your heart." The practice of giving Heroin, according to the government lawyers, is exactly the same as dealing. Legally, they are as culpable as drug dealers. And the moral haze thickens. No one joins the police force to become a bad guy. That is why Lumet, whose films are basically about the subjectivity of right and wrong, is fascinated with cops. They are not gangsters, who, as depicted in Scorsese's Goodfellas, are more about the money and "the life" than a mythical code of honor. For cops (even those who beat protestors or torture prisoners around the world) there has been, in most cases, a point where they justified their actions. In Prince of The City, Lumet affords all his characters, including the tens of government lawyers, an unfeigned authenticity that makes every scene in the film riveting. For every odious act performed against, or by a cop (or even a lawyer), there's an underlying moral position. The moral complexity of Lumet's best work lies in the assumption that pure evil does not exist. What sets Prince of the City apart (and what earns it comparisons to the films of Martin Scorsese) is the unusual strength of its characters. Lumet, who co-wrote the screenplay, something he does not do often, employs a strangely effective technique. Instead of a narration, there are regular grim stills of the ID Cards of the characters involved accompanied by quotations such as "nobody cares about you but your partners", and "I'll be telling lies for the rest of my life". The whole film then takes a feel of a postmortem documentary. The stills are there because the characters involved, probably for calamitous reasons, need to be identified. The quotations are the leads character's regrets. And as Ciello, Treat Williams gives a forceful performance that requires him to be in every scene. His character's quest for absolution closely resembles that of Charlie in Scorsese's Mean Streets. Why did this successful "Prince of the City" decide to voluntarily confess his trespasses, throwing all his riches away? Maybe the sight of starved junkie, shivering in abandoned warehouse, begging him for drugs didn't seem like much of a kingdom."
NYC Cops Are Human Beings
Quilmiense | USA/Spain | 08/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Almost 3 hours long and worth every minute. As great a cops and mafia film as there are, even comparable to the Godfather saga (I & II). Danny Ciello is a policeman hero, though technically he may be a criminal. These kind of police are the only people that stand between the comfortable beaurocracy class of lawyers and politicians and the jungle of drugadicts and all sorts of criminals. They do the dirty job the talkers won't do but appreciate as long as they themselves don't get caught (anything comparable to Plato's Republic, maybe?)
The question the film poses to the audience is: Do you approve -or not- this kind of police behavior? I say that the law was made for man, and not the other way round. We mustn't miss the aim of the law, lest we get entangled in our own web and become pharisaic.
This is another great Sidney Lumet classic, beautiful and entertaining; it makes you think over and over again about the issues exposed here. It has a great script. The leading actor does superbly. Directed talentedly, detachedly, not too overdramatic.
The thing I like about Lumet's films (the best director in the second half of the 20th century) is that he talks about human nature. His films are not just stories, things that happen as part of a plot. They are little revelations of the human soul. They talk about who more than what. And it's whom we really care for, isn't it? The issues are eternal: love, friendship, faithfulness, resilience, repentence, redemption... everything that separates us from animals, and everything is put to the test, the test of real life situations: where the rubber meets the road (as the great Christian Vernon McGee would say).
A classic but also a great modern film. I recommend Lumet's other great film, besides "12 Angry men", which is "The Hill"."
The Wait Is Finally Over
Frank C. Desmier | Melbourne AUSTRALIA | 02/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Since the begining of the DVD era I have searched fo this movie constantly. I really can't believe how long it has taken to be presented in this format, but after May 2007 I'm sure all will be forgiven. I won't go into the specifics of the plot as that has been covered in so many reviews here already. Those of you who have already seen it need not read any further, as I'm sure I would just be preaching to the converted, but to those Prince Of The City "virgins" I say "Turn off the lights, close the blinds and switch off your phone". For the next 167 minutes you're out! I hope you enjoy this movie. This is Sidney Lumet's finest work and while others see him as a great director, this movie shows him as one of the great storytellers. Only a true genius of this medium could keep you riveted to the screen for nearly three hour. When the movie is over you can join the rest of us in wondering where are all the awards are. It's hard to believe that a movie this good could be so over looked throughout the award season. I'll save you the trouble of looking it up, the Oscar for the best movie in 1981 was Chariots Of Fire. And on that I'll leave the final word with Dr. Phil. "What were they thinkin'?' "
Gripping Tale of Police Corruption
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 05/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"About ten years ago, I picked up a paperback of Robert Daley's "Prince of the City". I found Daley's account of corruption in the ranks of the New York City Police Department and the Knapp Commision hearings mesmerizing. This led me to Peter Maas' "Serpico". Naturally I hunted down the two films that director Sidney Lumet based on these books. As much as I liked "Serpico" I found "Prince of the City" a much more compelling story. I think this has more to do with the fact that Danny Ciello(Bob Leuci in the book) is a much more enigmatic figure than Frank Serpico. Serpico was a maverick but there was no questioning his integrity. Ciello's motives for blowing the whistle are a little more problematic. As a high profile narcotics detective, Ciello took bribes from organized crime figures and provided his stoolies with drugs among his many sundry offences. Now you can say that a lot of what Ciello did were necessary evils in conducting his day to day affairs but he also feathered his own personal nest. When he decides to go clean with the Commision he wants to do it on his own terms, meaning he'll bring down people he has a personal distaste for but not his friends on the force or his partners. Ciello's handlers have a different agenda, however, that doesn't naturally cohere with his. "Prince of the City" is a long film but it never sags. Aside from Lumet's crisp direction he also has crafted an engrossingly complex script with Jay Presson Allen. Treat Williams as Ciello gives a wrenching account of a man in turmoil. This is the kind of performance that gets overlooked probably because Ciello is a morally ambiguous figure. This is one of the great American films of the Eighties and one for all time."