(director/writer: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: Jay Presson Allen/based on the novel by Robert Daley; cinematographer: Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor: John J. Fitzstephens; music: Paul Chihara; cast:Treat Williams (Daniel Ciello), Jerry Orbach (Gusy Levy), Richard Foronjy (Joe Marinaro), Don Billett (Bill Mayo), Kenny Marino (Dom Bando), Carmine Caridi (Gino Mascone), Tony Page (Raf Alvarez), Lindsay Crouse (Carla Ciello), Bob Balaban (Santimassino), James Tolkan (D.A. Polito), Norman Parker (Rick Cappalino), Paul Roebling (Brooks Paige), E.D. Miller (Sergeant Edelman), Michael Beckett (Michael Blomberg), Tony DiBenedetto (Carl Alagretti), Ron Maccone (Nick Napoli), Robert Christian (The King), Cosmo Allegretti (Marcel Sardino); Runtime: 167; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Burtt Harris; Warner Home Video; 1981)

“Directs another Serpico, but with improvements.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on Robert Daley’s 1979 book about real-life undercover narcotics cop Robert Leuci. Writer Jay Presson Allen uses the true story for her screenplay, that seemingly comes with a political agenda to call out law enforcement for its hypocrisy in prosecuting dope dealers and dealing with the men in blue. Sidney Lumet (“Fail-Safe”/”Network”/”The Wiz”)directs another Serpico, but with improvements such as a richer in-depth character study and no moral ambivalence about the corruption in the NYPD. The excitement comes in the beginning and at the end of the picture, but the overlong middle part is both dreary and dull.But the exciting parts are good enough to make it a worthy film, one that ambitiously blames the unpractical laws and the greedy cops as much as the dealers for the wide-spread growth of the illegal drug industry and the dangers it brings to the community.

It’s set in NYC, during the 1970s.

The edgy Daniel Ciello (Treat Williams) is married to the dutiful long-suffering Carla (Lindsay Crouse), has two kids, lives in the upper-crust suburbs of Great Neck, and is the gung-ho action-loving young leader of the elite headline-making narcotics squad of the NYPD, Special Investigative Unit (S.I.U.). A judge refers to the SIU as the ‘princes of the city’ because of their vast powers, the loyalty of the men to each other and that they work unsupervised. Danny’s a guilt-ridden cop because he has become dirty selling the narcotics he confiscated with his close-knit unit, supplying heroin to his informants for info, taking bribes, using illegal phone taps, and committing perjury in court. He no longer believes the lies his colleagues tell each other, that their illegal acts still bring down the dealers and thereby the end results justify the means in their making a difference in fighting crime.

Danny exclaims that he has complete trust in his partners (Jerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy, Don Billett, Kenny Marino, and Carmine Caridi) and adds with fierce pride, “I sleep with my wife, but live with my partners.” The dirty cop is seeking redemption and in 1971 agrees to turn informer to aid the US Department of Justice and their special Chase Commission (in actuality, the Knapp Commission), to bring to justice corrupt cops, corrupt lawyers and mobsters. Danny works with young and ambitious special counsels Rick Cappalino (Norman Parker) and Brooks Paige (Paul Roebling) and agrees to wear a wire, but vows to never act against the boys in SIU andwill not be part of any activity that harms his close friends. The routine wire taps on mobsters grows over the investigation and expands to 16 months and nabs a big-time lawyer and a host of mobsters. Word gets out that Ciello has turned, and he receives the wrath of fellow officers as a traitor, mobsters call him a fink and he receives the consternation from his family at what he’s done to put them in danger. After receiving death threats, he receives 24-hour police protection and his family is moved to an undisclosed secure house upstate. His flawed heroism is soon brought out in the open and he’s revealed as a dirty cop who doesn’t deserve our sympathy, as he was only willing to say as little as possible about his role in the SIU’s long history of corruption. When it’s revealed how dirty he really is some of the prosecutors want to indict him but fear the many convictions they got through him would be overturned.Though he’s genuine about his effort to stop police corruption and square himself, his effort to achieve this absolution and assuage his self-hatred is insincere. As a result he becomes a pathetic figure nearly cracking up from all the pressure, from ratting on his partners and witnessing a few of his pals commit suicide. Danny only survives his misdeeds because of politics, but has to tragically live with a guilty conscience, being a pariah in the police department and unable to get by without Valium.

The busy sprawling pic, with too many characters to keep track of and too many situations to grok all the cases, only received mixed reviews and did a poor box office. Somehow it didn’t connect with the fickle public, even though it was at times a gripping film with a top-notch twisty performance by Treat Williams.