This is part of my Sidney Lumet Syllabus
It’s a thriller comedy about a writer of thrillers embroiled in a thriller where he plots to kill a former student in order to gain his flawless script so that he can finally have a hit again and stop living off of his wife’s wealth.
When discussing a filmmaker like Sidney Lumet, who has made Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men – two of the best single-location films — it’s hard to imagine him making as ‘run of the mill’ film as this. Sadly though it is. While I don’t want to take this into the completely negative bracket, the film can be categorized as plain in so many ways. While it uses the pretext of the thriller, and even having the play style used as a backdrop, it comes off as completely hokey in ways that films such as Death Becomes Her is able to brush off with ease. I’m not trying to say that the likes of Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn are better or worse that Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but it just works out better as a tonal mood that each film takes with Death Becomes Her than this film.
To keep it positive though I completely and utterly admit to feeling so good about how this movie embraces it’s own schlock. Murder mysteries can be so dumb. With thrillers like the ones we know Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is famous for making it can always feel like the writer is discovering the twists at the same time the audience is, not because he’s made it that much harder to find but that he’s put almost no thought into how the plot of this story is actually going to be twisting and turning and throws in these twists and turns like a blind driver making his way around a open field just throwing his life to the wind. Here the film admits to these faults up front with Bruhl having to endure n audience completely hating his current work and critics being even worse about it. It points to all the genre faults that the story falls into and then stumbles into them completely intentionally just for the sake of making these cracks so apparent that it’s almost as if Ira Levin, writer of the play this film is based on, wanted to make audiences aware of these problems with the genre so that they would be able to see them that much easily in other murder mysteries.
However, the film squanders this great murder mystery farce by being somewhat forgettable in the end. At one point the film shows it’s mark by explaining one of the writing basics of it’s genre, “to create a set of circumstances so ridiculous and entertaining that the audience has to end up suspending their disbelief”. The film does this and does it wonderfully so. However, three days out from watching it I find it difficult to remember specific details about it’s plot other than the generic twisting beats. Who killed whom and why is barely a point of discussion as much as who was in the film. Is there anything else of note in this film? I doubt it.
It’s silly and most times dumb, but somehow the likes of Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve make it work for me.