Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Sidney Lumet's "Q & A" is an excitingly well-crafted police movie, but he's a good director and I think that was the easy part for him. What was hard--what the movie is really about--is the rough and careless way that cops and other tough guys throw around racial insults. I'm not talking about how they address their clients out in the streets, I'm talking about how they regard each other--the Blacks and Irish and Jews and Hispanics and Italians and Slavs who make up their world. It is almost a badge of honor in certain circles to use, and ignore, racist verbal labels.
What does that kind of talk signify? Is it said in affection? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Is it said as a territorial thing--I'm Italian and you're not? Is it tribal, reminding everyone of loyalties that can be called on in times of trouble? At some level it's accepted--everyone in this movie uses racial and ethnic slang constantly--and yet, at another level, it is just what it sounds like, a kind of macho name-calling?
In Lumet's New York City, the streets are seen as dangerously near to spinning out of control. To the Irish-American chief of the homicide bureau (Patrick O'Neal), that means it is time to close ranks. It's a war out there, he believes, between the cops and the people who would destroy the city (by which he instinctively means Blacks and Hispanics). When a legendary Irish street cop named Brennan (Nick Nolte) shoots a Puerto Rican in a slum doorway, O'Neal calls in a young Assistant D.A. (Timothy Hutton) to head the investigation. But he briefs Hutton very specifically: "This is an open-and-shut case."
It is not. Hutton begins to suspect that Brennan may have committed murder. His investigation leads him into the lives of people in many different ethnic groups--and he is shocked one day when a Hispanic drug dealer (Armand Assante) walks in with a woman (Jenny Lumet) who Hutton once dated, and still loves.