On its surface John Cassavetes’ Gloria does not seem like your standard Cassavetes film. The filmmaker known for his more realistic, hand-held style does slide into a more mainstream mode of filmmaking here but does it with such Cassavetes-style that the film becomes inarguably his. Casting his wife Gena Rowlands in the lead role, the filmmaker takes a premise tailor-made for a warm, uplifting family picture and creates a darker portrait of childhood and family. Rowlands stars as Gloria, a tough New York City mob moll put in charge of a young Puerto Rican boy being hunted by gangsters. Much of the film involves Rowland and the boy, played by John Adames, running through the boroughs of New York City taking trains, buses, and cabs all across avoiding danger and trying to find their way out.
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.
Sydney Pollack was the ultimate filmmaker for adults. He made thrilling, funny, exciting, and dramatic films that spanned all genres but they all shared two very specific attributes. They were made to be entertaining. And they were made for adults. That can be hard to grasp in today’s movie climate in which all studio action movies and thrillers are geared towards pre-teens and teenagers but 1975’s Three Days of the Condor is Pollack at his ultimate best. Pollack creates a tense, claustrophobic thriller that is as thrilling as any paperback by Ludlum or the other great thriller writers.