Prince of the City

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Danny, a swaggering young police detective, doesn't see himself as a crusading hero when he decides to gather evidence of police corruption, early in the story. And he doesn't see himself entirely as a villain when his revelations bring catastrophe to his friends. Danny appears to regard himself as someone who expected to undertake something simple, only to find the task so complicated that it might prove to be impossible. The progress of this energetic, hugely ambitious, and finally sprawling movie is very like Danny's own. The borders of his own world are delineated beautifully.

In just a few short scenes - Mr. Lumet's economy in parts of this film is simply dazzling - we glimpse the cops who are Danny's devoted friends, the family that is overlooked for the sake of his career, the bullying, pugnacious manner in which he conducts himself and the dangerous intensity with which he embraces tragedy.

In a scene with two junkies, Danny finds himself both hating and relishing his power over these people, and perhaps secretly savoring his own invulnerability.

This may be part of what leads him to work as an informer, and it may not. When Danny decides to begin taperecording his conversations with crooked cops and mobsters, he takes a step the film never fully accounts for - any more than Robert Daley's book could explain Robert Leuci, the ex-detective upon whose story the movie is based.

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But though Danny's presence is what binds the movie together, he doesn't dominate the action, and his motives aren't vitally important. The film concentrates much more compellingly on the human backdrop for Danny's action than it does on his inner workings. And yet the brief characterizations are so keenly drawn that dozens of them stand out with the forcefulness of major performances. As Danny begins to drift away from the life he's familiar with, the landmarks of his voyage become a lawyer here, a mobster there, all of them instantly in focus thanks to carefully chosen sets, costumes and mannerisms, and thanks to casting that is superb.

Though Mr. Lumet is clearly concerned with the moral ramifications of Danny's behavior, he establishes them better through the specifics of the actors' behavior than he does through more generalized debate. The film is finally indecisive about the rectitude of Danny's actions, and it means to be. A key scene late in the book, with Mr. Leuci giving courtroom testimony against the cop to whom he was closest called Gus Levy here, and played wonderfully by Jerry Ohrbach would have made a heel out of Danny in the audience's eyes, and its omission is revealing.

But Mr. Lumet's choice to suspend judgment, provocative at first, becomes troublesome -especially in the last of the film's nearly three hours, when his direction has wandered as far from its initial briskness as Danny has from his own safe berth.

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In avoiding the danger of jumping to a facile conclusion about Danny, Mr. Lumet heads off so far in the opposite direction that he ends the film on a disappointing, inconclusive note. So much evidence has been presented, so many lawyers have trooped across the screen, so much time has been devoted to the question of Danny's essential honesty that a verdict is in order - if not from a moral standpoint, then from a dramatic one.

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Much of the burden of the movie's uncertainty falls upon Mr. Williams, whose performance must fill in those directorial omissions. Accordingly, he does his best work in the early part of the story, when his effort is most collaborative with Mr. Lumet and with the other actors.

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Williams, like the character he plays, is better off in company than he is alone; he brings a playful, arrogant, effectively brazen quality to Danny's maneuverings. And his rapport with the hoods in the story Ron Karabatsos, Tony Munafo and Ron Maccone are the most memorable of a very strong lineup is so easy that it speaks volumes about his seedy side. With the lawyers, especially with Norman Parker as the first to win his trust, Paul Roebling as a WASP who confounds him and Bob Balaban as a fussy, vindictive prosecutor, Danny is nervous in a way that's equally revealing.

With his police friends among them Mr.

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Ohrbach, Carmine Caridi and Richard Foronjy he shows the devotion of a lover, much more of it than he shows to his rock-solid wife Lindsay Crouse. But as he wanders far from the people and places that have been familiar, Danny becomes less vivid. On unsteady ground several scenes in which Danny loses his former allies are set aboard ferry boats , he registers a very touching fearfulness.

Williams, competent and plausible throughout the film and sometimes much better than that, never brings to Danny's lonely moments the depth or importance that might make him more tragic than confused. It has a large cast speaking roles led by Treat Williams.

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Daniel Ciello Williams is a New York City narcotics detective who reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he's in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.

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Get Known if you don't have an account. You want a conviction, but you've got these stupid search and seizure laws. And wiretaps. Case one never got made without an illegal wiretap.