Sidney Lumet, the gifted director of crime and punishment morality tales set in New York, died earlier today of Lymphona. He was 86 years old. Out of the legends we’ve lost these past four weeks (of which have been all too frequent), for me personally this is the hardest to swallow. He was a director I felt connected with, whose movies I shared a bond with, and I can’t believe I won’t get to see him make another.
Most directors get worse with age, even those who dominated the film scene at their peak but it never really happened with Sidney Lumet. Ok – so there was a bit of downtime in the 90′s but unlike John Carpenter or many other former greats, he picked it back up in the 00′s and finished his career on a high. He was a rarity in the business that he never suffered a weak period that he couldn’t get out of and he kept making classics in any decade he worked. Despite making 50 films, you never felt like he was winging it or had lost his master’s touch.
Xan Brooks in his write-up at The Guardian has called Lumet arguably the greatest crime director who ever worked in Hollywood. With a filmography that includes at least half a dozen 5 star, stone-wall classics ; the courtroom drama’s & morality plays 12 Angry Men (astonishingly his directorial debut) and The Verdict, the two Al Pacino classics Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, the truly masterful Network (my personal favourite of his) – how could one argue?
What proved to be his final film, the excellent 2007 crime movie Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead holds up as one of the best films of that year. Not bad for a director in his 80′s.
When a director has a filmography like he, words aren’t really needed;
12 Angry Men (1957) – one of the greatest ever dialogue movies, The Fugitive Kind (1961), The Pawnbroker (1964), Fail-Safe (1964 and better than Dr. Strangelove, FYI), The Deadly Affair (1966, with a great performance from James Mason), The Anderson Tapes (1971, post James Bond-Connery greatness)… and then a run of classic films that has rarely been equalled…
Serpicio (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Equus (1977)
Then Prince of the City (1981), The Verdict (1982), Running on Empty (1988), Find Me Guilty (2006), Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).
All great movies and if you haven’t seen them you would be wise to check them out.
Who of the modern age can tell it like it really is and understands what a gritty and dirty crime drama should be? Who can change with the times and never feel dated, like he and of course Martin Scorsese? Perhaps Ben Affleck. I’ve championed him for a while and his two movies as director – Gone Baby Gone and The Town feel the most Lumet-like of anything I’ve ever seen.
Let’s hope Ben carries on what he is doing and keeps Lumet’s legacy alive. We lost one of the best ever today and though he’s never really spoken of in terms of Scorsese & Hitchcock in most circles… he really should be.
This article was first posted on April 9, 2011