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An interesting crime thriller
on 10 August 2014
Sidney Lumet's "Q & A" is an interesting crime thriller. When a legendary street cop named Brennan (Nick Nolte) shoots a Puerto Rican in a slum doorway, they call in a young Assistant D.A. (Timothy Hutton) to head the investigation.
Hutton begins to suspect that Brennan may have committed murder. His investigation leads him into the lives of people in many different ethnic groups, and he is shocked one day when a Hispanic drug dealer (Armand Assante) walks in with a woman (Jenny Lumet) who Hutton once dated, and still loves.
This is a movie with a large cast, and one of the ways Lumet deals with that is to use experienced actors who exude the traits of their characters. There's Charles Dutton, as a hard-boiled black detective who explains that his real colour is blue - "and when I was in the Army, it was olive drab." There's Luis Guzman as his partner, a Puerto Rican detective who knows and accepts the realities of the streets but has his limits. There's Lee Richardson as an old Jewish lawyer who has high standards and gives wise counsel to Hutton.
Everyone in this movie uses racial and ethnic slang/slurs constantly, and yet, at another level, it is just what it sounds like, a kind of macho name-calling? At some level it's accepted. In Lumet's New York City, the streets are seen as dangerously near to spinning out of control. To the Irish-American chief of the homicide bureau (Patrick O'Neal), that means it is time to close ranks. It's a war out there, he believes, between the cops and the people who would destroy the city (by which he instinctively means Blacks and Hispanics).
Lumet has made other movies about tough big city types (Dog Day Afternoon, Network), but this is the one where he taps into the vibrating awareness of race which is always there, when strangers of different races encounter each other in situations where one has authority and another doesn't.