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Q & A Reviews

An attempt to return to the police corruption territory which had provided Lumet with two of his best films (SERPICO and PRINCE OF THE CITY), Q&A is a pungent, graphic drama sabotaged by a stupid romantic sub-plot, misjudged casting and a truly abysmal soundtrack. Hailed by his peers as one of the finest cops in New York, Lt. Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte) is, in fact, one of the dirtiest men on the force. In the film's opening scene, he kills an unarmed Latino drug dealer in cold blood, then plants a gun on him. When more officers arrive on the scene, Brennan claims he shot the dealer in self-defense. Still, this incident requires an investigation by the DA's office, and cop turned assistant DA Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton) is assigned to the case. This being Reilly's first investigation, chief of homicide Kevin Quinn (Patrick O'Neal) briefs him on how to go about it: Reilly will ask questions regarding the incident, a stenographer will record Brennan's answers (the Q&A of the title) and, after a few interviews with some witnesses, the whole matter will be neatly cleared up. In their initial meeting, Brennan explains his side of the story in suspiciously thorough detail; then Reilly learns his own former girlfriend, Nancy (Jenny Lumet, the director's daughter), is now romantically involved with Bobby Texador (Armand Assante), a drug dealer who is also a witness. The young assistant DA decides to launch a full investigation of this seemingly simple matter and events take a dangerous turn. The trail of corruption leads from drug dealers to Brennan and, ultimately, Quinn. Q&A is authentic and uncompromising in its depiction of racism within the police force, probably coming closer to capturing the casually offensive repartee of New York cops than any other film. It also does a fine job of evoking Lumet's much-loved city, from smoky bars to cluttered station houses to opulent criminal hideaways. But while creating this dark, seedy world, Lumet overstuffs Q&A with plot. Providing little or no character motivation, he trivializes the film's central concerns (racism and corruption) with his banal, cliched treatment of the relationship between Riley and Nancy. Matters aren't helped by the fact that Hutton is miscast, while Jenny Lumet seems simply incapable of acting. Nolte, meanwhile, turns in a riveting performance, superbly aided and abetted by Luis Guzman and Charles Dutton as his initially loyal colleagues. The work of these three alone makes Q&A worth seeing, though you'll cringe every time the film's embarassing theme song comes thudding over the soundtrack.