Sidney Lumet made movies for grownups. That’s the first thing and the last thing that should be said about this great American director, who died of lymphoma Friday night at the ripe old age of 86.
His long list of great, good, and otherwise notable films focuses mainly on personal morality within the context of social institutions: police departments, courts, media empires, the American economy and government: “Dog Day Afternoon.” “Serpico.” “Network.” “Prince of the City.” “The Pawnbroker.” “Twelve Angry Men.” “The Group.” “The Verdict.” “The Fugitive Kind.” “Fail Safe.” He was interested in the here and now — in how his fellow adults lived, loved and died, in boardrooms and courtrooms, in bedrooms, and on the streets. Escapism is one of the great, primal lures of moviegoing, but cinema also exists to confront and engage. That was Lumet’s preference, and he continued to indulge it long after Hollywood had retooled itself as a fun factory for teenagers; his gritty, detail-obsessed legal series “100 Centre Street” premiered on cable when he was 75, and his last movie, the coal-black, greed-infected domestic drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” came out in 2007, when he was 82. He never made a film about superheroes, extraterrestrials, or giant robots. He kept it real.
Also read the NYT obit and watch the accompanying “The Last Word” interview.