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Sidney Lumet
Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy
Writing Credits:
Jay Presson Allen, Sidney Lumet

Conflicted New York cop Danny Ciello reluctantly decides to go undercover for the feds to ferret out police corruption.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 167 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 8/24/2021

• “The Real Story” Featurette
• Trailer


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Prince Of The City [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 19, 2021)

In the spirit of gritty police dramas such as 1973’s Serpico comes 1981’s Prince of the City. Here we meet Detective Danny Ciello (Treat Williams), a member of the NYPD’s elite narcotics Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

When District Attorney Richard Cappolino (Norman Parker) looks into police corruption, he starts his search with the SIU. They’re some of the most powerful cops, regarded as “princes of the city”.

Danny steadfastly denies any corruption in the SIU, but he knows the truth – especially since he participates in various sordid activities. Danny’s guilt gnaws at him and he eventually agrees to participate in the investigation.

This puts him in a series of dangerous situations. The film depicts these as we watch Danny’s tortured journey.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Prince reminds me of Serpico since Sidney Lumet directed both. However, Prince comes across as both more three-dimensional and less believable at the same time.

On one hand, this flick paints Danny as a more complicated character when compared to the heroic Serpico. Danny shows all sorts of flaws, while Serpico was pretty true-blue.

Unfortunately, as played by Williams, Danny feels thinly drawn. Williams turns in a broad, cartoony performance with little to no psychological depth. He either seems so hyper that we think Danny’s coked up, or he’s mopey and weepy.

Williams doesn’t appear able to find any middle ground. Danny remains a superficial character in whom we rarely invest any emotion or interest. He may be the movie’s lead, but in Williams’ hands, he can’t ground the story.

Lumet also fails to create a coherent story here. Perhaps the nature of the tale – inspired by real events – made it more difficult to form a concise narrative, but I think Lumet could’ve done better. While I understand that the story covers a great deal of factual territory, I feel it needs to be whittled down into something tighter and more dynamic.

At nearly three hours, Prince is a long movie. Even worse, it feels long.

Lumet takes a somewhat scattershot and episodic approach to the material, and that makes it disjointed and plodding. The film fails to concentrate on anything specific for long enough to involve us. Instead, it flits from one subject to another and never coalesces into anything absorbing.

Another problem stems from the simplistic nature of the film’s themes. Early on we see that the ostensible bad guys – the corrupt cops – will be viewed as loyal and true, while the feds that pursue them seem self-absorbed and opportunistic.

Lumet doesn’t present this concept in a subtle manner. He beats us over the head with it and rarely allows for any shades of gray.

Danny “does the right thing” and gets rewarded with tragedy. I’m not quite sure what point Lumet wants to make, other than “never rat on your friends”, but it doesn’t work.

I respect Lumet as a filmmaker but Prince of the City ends up as a definite disappointment. Dull, excessively long and plodding, it fails to generate much heat or drama. Instead, it saunters along for almost three hours of slow storytelling.

Quirky cast footnote: both Bob Balaban and Lance Henriksen appear here as Feds. Four years earlier, that pair served as assistants to the Francois Truffaut character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Prince of the City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though some photographic choices left the image as less than dynamic, the film usually looked good.

Sharpness became the main example of these occasional iffy elements, as some shots became a bit on the soft side. Still, these reflected the original footage and remained minor. While the flick rarely exhibited dynamic definition, it usually seemed accurate.

No signs of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain felt natural, and the print lacked specks, marks or other issues.

No one should feel surprised to learn that a gritty drama like Prince offered a muted palette. With an earthy feel, the tones didn’t leap off the screen, but they suited the movie and offered nice fidelity.

Black levels came across deep and firm, while shadows boasted appealing clarity. No one will use this film as a visual showcase, but the transfer replicated the source as desired.

One also shouldn’t expect much from the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Prince of the City. The flick offered a very chatty experience, and dialogue strongly dominated the film.

Music appeared occasionally but infrequently, and effects usually remained subdued. A few scenes became louder, but the vast majority of the movie stuck with minor ambience.

Audio quality appeared acceptable given its age. Speech felt a little stiff but the lines remained intelligible and usually seemed fairly natural, with only a smidgen of edginess at times.

As noted, neither music nor effects played much of a role. When available, the score appeared reasonably full.

Effects came across as somewhat thin, but they didn’t come with much distortion and they replicated the source well enough. As with the visuals, nothing here impressed, but the soundtrack worked fine given the movie’s age and ambitions.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD edition? Audio was warmer and clearer, while visuals seemed tighter, cleaner and smoother. Especially in terms of picture quality, this became an obvious upgrade.

In addition to the flick’s trailer, we get a featurette called Prince of the City: The Real Story. The 28-minute, 37-second show features notes from director/screenwriter Sidney Lumet, “real Danny Ciello” Robert Leuci, author Robert Daley, screenwriter/executive producer Jay Presson Allen, production designer Tony Walton, producer Burtt Harris, and actors Treat Williams, Lance Henriksen, and Bob Balaban.

“Story” looks at the facts behind the film, what life was like on the SIU and aspects of the subsequent investigation. It also gets into the source book by Leuci and Daley and its adaptation for the screen, cast and performances, cinematography, locations and sets, Lumet’s work during the shoot, and reactions to the flick.

“Story” tries to cover a lot of ground in a fairly short period of time. Along the way it cuts some corners and doesn’t dig into the subjects as well as I’d like, but it still proves pretty interesting. The show manages to be concise as it goes through all the different topics. This ends up as an informative piece that I simply wish lasted longer.

I wanted to like Prince of the City but found a flick that disappointed. Too long, too slow and too disjointed, it takes a promising premise and squanders it. The Blu-ray provides solid visuals along with decent audio and an informative featurette. I wish I liked this movie but it leaves me cold.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of PRINCE OF THE CITY

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