Sidney Lumet would be held up there with Scorsese, Spielberg and Wilder as the best director if it weren’t for his inconsistency. But for me he’s always been a favourite creating some of the best, most captivating films of all time. He’s a master of subtlety, bringing about a look and feel of mystery and suspense. He was no doubt one of the directors who captured on-screen criminals and those handing out justice in a way no other did.
Starting out in television, Lumet’s first try at feature film is still considered to be his best and is often ranked in the top 20 (or even 10) of all time. 12 Angry Men is the epitome of directing, taking place in one room when a jury works out a complicated homicide. Progressive, complex and still fresh this is what Lumet will and shoul be remembered for.
The Scorsese to Al Pacino’s Robert De Niro, Lumet strenghtened Pacino’s style and fame in the haze and aftermath of the Godfather. First depicting the classic good cop story of Serpico and moving on to Dog Day Afternoon where Pacino plays a gay bank robber with a heart of gold. These very different roles were an indication of Lumet’s capabilities to bring the best out of the actors, leaving the most blasting action to the background and focusing on the character story, rather than the show. He was considered an ‘actor’s director’ and worked with the most talented actors of all time during his long career. Pacino, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Paul Newman, River Phoenix, Jeff Bridges and Philip Seymour Hoffman to name a few, worked with Sidney Lumet and hailed him as on the most dependable, supportive and challenging directors there is.
Lumet also took part in the 70’s trend of social commentary, nabbing on to the world of network television and their corrupt ways. Network continued, with the likes of The King of Comedy, the emerging criticism of the the world of fame, then bigger than ever before.
In 2005, Lumet won the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement before directing his last and one of his most interesting works, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. On the surface a crime thriller, but actually an interesting family dynamic of two brothers that take the wrong path and end up robbing their parents jewelry shop. His last work was his best in years, having not shone as a great filmmaker of all time, but a brilliance faded; but with his last effort he proved his talent, creativity and ability to depict complex minds and help actors achieve their best work.