Picks and Pans Review: Night Falls on Manhattan

updated 05/26/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/1997 01:00AM

Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss, Lena Olin, Ian Holm, James Gandolfini

Television does it better. Or at least as well. From a movie critic, that may sound like heresy, but watching Night Falls on Manhattan, a provocative drama about the moral ambiguities confronting big-city cops, lawyers and politicians, one is struck by how well top TV dramas like NYPD Blue, Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street now cover the same ground week in and week out. Despite an impassioned star turn by Garcia, Night Falls in many ways seems like just another episode of one of those shows. It's a good episode, with crackling dialogue, diverse characters and a knowing take on urban life, but the plotting is clunkier and the characters more broadly drawn than on the tube. A movie, after all, has only two hours to tell you everything you will ever know about the people involved.

Although Night Falls—adapted by director Sidney Lumet from the Robert Daley novel Tainted Evidence—becomes more complex and absorbing as it goes along, the movie kicks off with the pulpiest of premises: Garcia, a former cop turned fledgling assistant DA, is assigned to prosecute a vicious drug dealer who has shot Garcia's own father, a veteran police detective. (Asked about the likelihood of such a scenario, a spokesperson for the Manhattan DA said, "It is something that doesn't happen.")

Among Night's strong supporting cast, Dreyfuss is fun as a showboating liberal lawyer, and Olin projects a forthright sexiness, though her character, a defense attorney who beds Garcia, makes no sense and seems tossed in simply to see to it that a brooding Garcia isn't too lonely. (R)

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