In 1990, prolific director Sidney Lumet released his latest feature film, Q&A. The plot focuses on Michael Brennan (Nick Nolte), a New York City cop who has murdered a criminal in cold blood and made it look like self-defense. A young rising district attorney, Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton), is assigned to what he’s told will be a simple case. As he digs deeper, he discovers Brennan’s complicated misdeeds. The veteran cop bullies and intimidates witnesses, covers his tracks with lies, and ultimately kills to keep his secrets. He’s empowered by higher ups in the system who look the other way or mobsters who provide the additional muscle he needs. But Al refuses to enable Brennan. He’s committed to upholding the law, even if it could get him killed.
During his investigation, Al encounters Bobby Texador (Armand Assante), a notorious drug boss who witnessed the murder. He’s a colorful character that just so happens to be dating Al’s ex-girlfriend, Nancy (Jenny Lumet). Al still loves her and regrets the breakup. This is actually one problem I found with the movie. Every time Al and Nancy are on screen together the movie grinds to a halt. Nobody cares. The audience for this film didn’t come to see a stale love story. The better interactions are between Hutton and Nolte or Hutton and Assante. They are all excellent in their roles and have great chemistry.
Lumet adapted the screenplay from Edwin Torres’ novel of the same name and it’s easy to see why he was drawn to the material. The book uses themes that the director had explored before in his movies (Serpico, Prince of the City, The Verdict): corruption, abuse of power, and the little guy fighting back against it all. Lumet expertly weaves a David & Goliath story into a crime thriller, adding complexity to the gritty action. The film also touches on issues of race, class, and sexuality. The last one, specifically how the LGBT characters are treated, could have been executed better though.
Q&A didn’t perform well at the box office or get a lot of acclaim from the critics, but I find it to be an interesting film. Even though Lumet has gone down this road before he manages to cover the material from a fresh perspective. It’s still worth taking a look all these years later.