Sidney Lumet, RIP


I don't have a lot to say about Sidney Lumet, who died this weekend at age 86. Just that he directed one movie that's just about perfect—Dog Day Afternoon—and a bunch of others that haven't simply colonized my imagination; they've seized it and remade it in their own image. If I'm reading about New York in the '70s, the associations that jump to my mind are probably recycled from one of Lumet's pictures: if not Dog Day, then Serpico or Prince of the City or maybe even The Wiz. (*) And if I'm hearing about a trial, my mental images are apt to come from 12 Angry Men or The Verdict.

He made other worthy films too. The Pawnbroker is a vivid character study. Equus is one of my favorite stage-to-celluloid adaptations. Network is filled with funny scenes, not to mention one of the greatest Ned Beatty supporting roles in the long, rich history of great Ned Beatty supporting roles. Running on Empty won me over to the point that I somehow even enjoyed the sequence where the cast sings along to James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," a song that under any other circumstances I would despise. Lumet's best movies feature complex characters, a strong sense of place, and stories that aren't afraid to take some unexpected turns before depositing the audience at the end. The man put his stamp on the second half of the 20th century, and it's hard for me to imagine it without him.

* Yes, I know Prince of the City came out in 1981. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be set in the '70s, and at any rate it feels like the same world.