DVD Review: Prince of the City (Two disc set)

Filmmaker Sidney Lumet was one of the ruling filmmakers of the 70s, his films often unsettled viewers as they rarely showed things as being simply right or wrong. Network, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon all show us the desperate side of humanity and were generally steeped in tragedy.

One overlooked, but no less impressive, Lumet film is 1980’s Prince of the City.

Based on the real-life experiences of New York police officer Robert Leuci (though the names have been changed), an officer that wore a wire for the Feds as part of a large-scale operation to bust corrupt narcotics detective in the Big Apple.

Recruited by the Chase Commission (Assembled to fight corruption within the NYPD),Special Investigations Detective Danny Ciello (Treat Williams playing a fictionalized version of Leuci) agrees to wear a wire and help them build a case against detectives within the narcotics division.

Danny is no choirboy. This is not Elliot Ness, but a man whose own past is filled with the very type of behavior that the Commission is trying to stop. His own vision of right and wrong having been blurred by the years on the force.

While Danny has indeed agreed to help, he makes it clear he will not betray his friends. But as the film goes on, some of the people Danny loves the most are hurt the worst.

I have never really looked at Williams as a serious actor, but his performance here is impressive. His character is a complex one. While he does try to do the right thing, he is also deceitful and conniving at times. I found myself going back and forth in terms of empathizing with Danny.

Armed with an Oscar nominated screenplay (co-written by the director with Jay Preston Allen), Lumet does a fantastic job here. Like with most of his films, there is precious little that is clearly right or wrong.
It clocks in at a whopping two hours and forty seven minutes, Prince of the City will try the patience of some viewers, but if you have the attention span, you will be rewarded,
Sadly, we do not get a commentary track. This is unfortunate because Mr. Lumet has done an excellent job on them for several of his other films. It would have been great to team him up with Leuci and Williams.

The one featurette here is a pretty good one. Prince of the City: The Real Story features comments from Williams, Lumet, Leuci as well as the author of the non-fiction this was taken from. It does give some nice insight into the film, such as Lumet commenting that the ambiguity of the film might be in part because he himself was torn as to how he felt about the protagonist.

As a special edition, this is lacking, but this is the not the second or third DVD version, it is the first. And it is well worth the wait.


For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.