Oddly enough, right after I watched City Hall, I watched yet another 1997 film about politics and police corruption in New York. And while Night Falls on Manhattan is definitely not one of Sidney Lumet’s best films, it’s still definitely an improvement on City Hall.
Night Falls on Manhattan tells the story of what happens when two veteran detectives — Liam Casey (Ian Holm) and Joey Allegreto (James Gandolfini) — attempt to arrest drug dealer Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey). Liam ends up getting shot multiple times before Jordan, disguised as a police officer, flees the scene. As the cops search for Jordan, they accidentally shoot and kill one of their own.
In short, Manhattan has gone crazy and only the prompt capture and conviction of Jordan Washington will set things right.
However, the police don’t have to spend too much time searching for Jordan because, the very next day, he turns himself in. He’s accompanied by a veteran radical lawyer named Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss). Vigoda announces that yes, Jordan is a drug dealer and yes, he did shoot Liam Casey. However, Vigoda claims that Jordan has been paying off the cops and that Liam and Joey weren’t actually trying to arrest him. Instead, they were specifically looking for an excuse to execute him.
Flamboyant District Attorney Morganstern (Ron Leibman) know that his office has to convict Jordan. And luckily, he has a secret weapon. Liam’s son, Sean (Andy Garcia), just happens to be a former cop and an assistant district attorney. He assigns Sean to handle Jordan’s prosecution.
Sean, it turns out, has political ambitions of his own and, by prosecuting Jordan, he not only gets revenge for the shooting of his father but he also furthers his own career. (He also gets a girlfriend, in this case an associate of Vigoda’s who is played by Lena Olin.) When Morganstern has a heart attack, Sean suddenly finds himself being mentioned as a candidate to replace him in the upcoming election.
However, even as Sean appears to be shoo-in to be the next district attorney, he also discovers that neither Liam nor Joey were as innocent as he originally assumed..
Night Falls In Manhattan is an occasionally diverting legal and political thriller. As a director, Sidney Lumet had an obvious feel for New York culture and, as a result, the film feels authentic even when the plot occasionally veers into melodrama. As opposed to City Hall, you never doubt the plausibility of Night Falls On Manhattan. Though Andy Garcia is a bit an odd choice to play an Irish-American (and it’s particularly difficult to imagine him being, in any way, related to Ian Holm), the rest of the film is well-cast. Fans of The Sopranos will enjoy a chance to see James Gandolfini playing someone who, because he’s on the “right” side o the law, is actually more dangerous than Tony Soprano and Rob Leibman is thoroughly believable as a bullying crusader against crime.
After I watched Night Falls on Manhattan, I did some checking online and I was surprised to discover that the film is apparently not better known than it is. While it definitely uneven, Night Falls On Manhattan is an interesting look at crime, ethics, and urban politics.