Sidney Lumet, who died yesterday—in case anyone didn’t get the news—made movies for almost as long as I’ve been alive. When it came to cinema, he was a big name for me and for decades, though I had to go back and remind myself exactly what I’d seen by him. It seems that a fair number of his films I never did see, or have no memory of seeing. Some I did in the 1960s and early ’70s (e.g. ‘The Pawnbroker’, ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’) but don’t remember what I thought of them. ‘Serpico’ was excellent, of course. I hated ‘Network’ when it came out, as it rubbed my then far-left political sensibilities the wrong way (I might feel differently about it today but doubt I’ll give it another look). ‘Prince of the City’ was soporifically interminable. I remember feeling likewise through much of ‘The Verdict’, but that one came together in the end. His last one, ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, was a well-done film noir, though I wasn’t sure how I felt about the way it ended.
The one film Lumet did that stands out for me, that was a veritable chef d’oeuvre, was ‘Running on Empty’, from 1988. This one blew me away. I’m pretty sure it received overwhelmingly good reviews, in both the US and France, but it wasn’t a box office success (in France it came and went almost unnoticed, and despite the reputation of the director and the political subject matter of the film). I saw it in ’88 in Paris, with my parents. We all agreed that it was excellent. The reaction of my mother, who is a cinephile and likes analyzing films, I wasn’t surprised by, but my father’s praise was noteworthy, as going to the cinema wasn’t his thing and he was hard to please when it came to films. His thumbs up is as strong a recommendation for the film as one can have.