By Jack Rico
Sidney J. Lumet, a New York-based filmmaker whose work frequently focused on power, politics, and corruption, has died at the age of 86.
He had been suffering from lymphona.
Lumet, who came to prominence in 1957 with the classic courtroom drama “12 Angry Men,” spent much of his career portraying New York City as a cesspool of violence, filth and compromised ideals. In such gritty films as “Serpico” (1973), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975), “Prince of the City” (1981) and “Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996), Lumet showed a dysfuctional city where the only certainty was that integrity was impossible to preserve. The first two starred Al Pacino in two of his most-acclaimed roles.
Lumet’s other prominent social-issue films included “Fail-Safe” (1964), a deadly somber tale (in contrast to Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”) of the world accidentally brought to the brink of nuclear disaster, and “Network” (1976), a searing indictment of the corrosive power of television, particularly TV news. Neither film ended cheerily, which was generally true of much of his work.
Lumet made two prominent films with Sean Connery: “The Hill” (1965), a story of authority run amok in a British army prison, and “The Anderson Tapes” (1971), which showed a world where everyone was under surveillance seemingly all the time. “Running on Empty” (1988) dealt with Abbie Hoffman-like fugitives still on the run, and “Daniel” (1983) portrayed someone who seemed very much like the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg . A 1986 film starring Richard Gere and Denzel Washington was simply titled “Power.”
In “Network,” he directed three actors to Academy Awards: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight. Though he never won one in competition, Lumet was nominated for five Oscars, for “12 Angry Men,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” “Prince of the City,” and “The Verdict” (1982). He was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 2005.
The Philadelphia native’s other acclaimed films included “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1962), “The Pawnbroker” (1965), and “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974). After a long dry stretch, his final film was 2007’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a rich and disturbing effort about a family destroyed by greed and delusion.