Q & A (1990)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Police Drama  |   Release Date - Apr 27, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 132 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Costello

Sidney Lumet's occasionally powerful film on the ubiquity of racial strife and corruption in the N.Y.P.D. and the New York legal system features a tremendous performance by Nick Nolte, but is ultimately too sprawling and shapeless to have the impact he intended. Adapted from a novel by a New York assistant DA who went on to become a New York State Supreme Court Justice by a director who has made classic films about the corruption of the N.Y.P.D., it suffers less from a knowledge deficit than a bad script. Lumet may be a fine director, but in choosing to adapt this script himself, he seems to have forgotten that his best films were written by people like David Mamet, Paddy Chayefsky, and his longtime partner, Jay Presson Allen. The result is an overlong, overcomplicated, repetitious film with an unbelievably naïve protagonist whose laughably contrived erstwhile romance is a major subplot. Yet, in dwelling on the abject ugliness of the racial hostility, tribalism, cronyism, greed, and ruthlessness of this world, Lumet often hits a nerve, exposing truths which have been well-documented. Nolte's monster of a detective embodies the essence of these qualities, a man so consumed by rage that it seems he might kill anyone in any scene at any moment, and his sadistic pursuit of a hapless drag queen is something viewers may wish to forget. The wan passivity of Timothy Hutton's assistant DA may represent Lumet's fatalistic response toward a problem he has come to believe is intractable. Were it not for Nolte's awe-inspiring performance, the excellent work of Armand Assante and Charles S. Dutton would be more readily apparent.