Sidney Lumet is one of the greatest filmmakers to have ever lived and one of his greatest film is the epic cop film, Prince of the City. Treat Williams is superb and breathtaking as a once corrupt cop who grows a conscience but in the end loses his friends, family, and reputation, all in the name of doing the right thing. Prince of the City is a deeply powerful film with a heavyweight ensemble putting in strong, unforgettable performances. The film’s treatment of corruption at every level from the office to the man to the system itself is frightening in its poignancy.
William’s Danny Ciello is at once brash, charming, angry, dangerous, and intensely vulnerable throughout the film. When taken in by Internal Affairs, he makes a deal where he refuses to turn in his partners, a deeply felt loyalty that is tested over and over throughout the film and provides the film with its heart. Rather than treating corruption as a good vs. evil situation, the film takes the more complex view of what corruption does to the soul of man versus the black and white villainy of most films of its ilk. Jerry Orbach is great as one of Danny’s cop friends who becomes embroiled in Danny’s decisions but the cast is uniformly great, taking the best of the New York City scene of actors.
Not just one of the best cop films of all time but also one of the best looks at the justice system and the ways power and money corrupts everything. Andrzej Bartkowiak’s photography from the grit and grime of the New York City streets to the polish deep within the halls of justice complements the story and gives the film much-needed gravitas and energy. Lumet’s doesn’t whitewash the story or its characters showing them for their deep flaws but also their deeply human selves. It’s both a cynical film and an optimistic one and it handles that balance well. While showing the capacity for good, it also shows what happens to the man willing to stand up for what’s right in a system that only knows loyalty. Corruption from institution to man are the central themes of the film completely embodied by Treat William’s magnificent performance at its center but Lumet surrounds him with such a strong script, a powerful ensemble, and some of the best photography of New York ever put on film. Lumet’s film is deeply powerful due to the raw energy of its cast creating a magnetic, striking film that is hard to shake.
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