R.I.P. Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

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.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

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.


8 responses to “R.I.P. Sidney Lumet (1924-2011)

    • TBH I hadn’t realized all of his films were his; he’s not that showy and distinct as let’s say Scrosese, where you know that he’s directing but that’s what I like about him.

      • Definitely Lumet was never as much a household name as Scorsese or anyone like that. However, he was just as good as any of them. Right up there amongst the best. And truly the man had some great movies on his resume.

        12 Angry Men still stands as one of my favorite movies of all-time (probably top 5) and definitely favorite courtroom drama. Furthermore, I think it may very well have to be the best feature film debut of a director ever. The movie is damn near flawless. Hard to believe that was his first.

        Dog Day Afternoon was great. Network was a real good movie. Serpico was good (and I’m sure even better in its day–just we’re so used to police corruption these days that it doesn’t have the same effect nowadays). Murder on the Orient Express is a good mystery movie. The Verdict: another one of my all-time favorite courtroom dramas.

        Even his most recent work I enjoyed. I thought Before the Devil Knows Your Dead was indeed a good movie. I even enjoyed Find Me Guilty a bit. An actual good performance from Vin Diesel in there. That was one of the things about Lumet, he definitely could draw a great performance from his actors.

      • I do agree that his best films are as good or sometimes better than other directors working with the same topics, however his worse films are often really not that good.

        I couldn’t believe 12 Angry Men was his first feature, but I guess it’s the same as with Welles and Citizen Kane that they’ve probably been developing that film in their heads for years and years perfecting every frame.

  1. Rest in peace, he was a great man. And I must admit, his passing away made me want to see more of his movies – some of those ones that I have not seen yet are now either ordered from Play or placed on a waiting list from the library…

    • Same here for sure! There’s something about him that’s very discreet, I mean I never really realised how great his oeuvre is (I mean there are quite many misses, but all in all) and it’s sad that this is the reason why I gotten so excited to see more of his films.

  2. A loss, but he ended his career on a high note. Lumet’s biggest contribution to cinema, aside from a sterling oeuvre, might be Making Movies, one of the best books about filmmaking ever written– ever. Really. Film enthusiasts keen on learning the process of making a movie, from the abstract to the practical, should absolutely devour this book. It’s an incredible resource wrought from the mind of one of the greatest directors of all time.

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