Two courtroom movies take the screen
"A Few Good Men" was not the first movie to march into the courtroom with its self-righteousness on its sleeve. It did, however, coin the mantra which comes to mind every time I see some bleeding-heart melodrama like the new "Night Falls on Manhattan." Before Tom Cruise was pleading "Show me the money," he was demanding "I want the truth" - to which Jack Nicholson gave the more famous retort: "You can't handle the truth." Such is the grounds for a lot of moralizing in both these movies. Both are marked by an exemplary cast and top-notch director: "Men" - Rob Reiner, "Manhattan" - Sidney Lumet. But where "Men" had a sharp, witty script to propel it forward, "Manhattan" gets bogged down in too much trite theatrics and manipulation.
Over the years, Lumet has claimed Manhattan as his, offering versions of the borough in such masterpieces as "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico," and tripe like "A Stranger Among Us" and "Guilty as Sin." In Manhattan the portrait we get is of a city with such a huge underbelly that there's no telling what you might find when you lift it up. Young, earnest Assistant District Attorney Sean Casey (Andy Garcia) is trying to stick to the straight and narrow in a world where - get this - even cops and lawyers are corrupt. Sean's father, Liam (Ian Holm) is a fine member of the NYPD - one of the few upstanding officers apparently. He gets into trouble, however, when attempting to arrest a drug dealer - shot three times in the chest, while two other officers are killed by the same dealer. District Attorney Morgenstern (Ron Leibman, doing his best impression of Lumet regular Al Pacino) decides to give the case to Sean, approving of his fresh demeanor and vigorous dignity. The trial only comprises about a fifth of the movie - just long enough for politically correct attorney Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss) to bring up the idea that police officers involved in the case were taking money from this drug dealer. Sean manages to win the case - and in a matter of minutes, he miraculously becomes District Attorney and is sleeping with one of Vigoda's assistants, Peggy Lindstrom (Lena Olin).