A fictionalized retelling of the true story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for selling atomic secrets to the Soviets. Director Sidney Lumet’s tragic tale veers back and forth in time between the 1960s, as the Rosenberg’s traumatized children Daniel and his younger sister Susan, try to cope with the loss, and the 1930s when the Rosenbergs, here called the Isaacsons, Rochelle and Paul, became a couple and joined the Communist Party to oppose fascism. E.L. Doctorow’s 1971 novel The Book of Daniel is scripted by him. It’s unsatisfying that Lumet not only takes a neutral position throughout as to their guilt or whether they were good people, but shamelessly milks the story for tears and manages to subvert its original intentions as a probing historical document into an empty liberal diatribe against capital punishment, a polemic against McCarthyism and an unfulfilling psychological drama about reuniting with one’s parents. The failure to provide some sort of payoff works against the film. Only occasionally does it seem to get at the tragedy emotionally and its consequences on the country and the children. Its most powerful moments come from the use of the Paul Robeson recordings played periodically in the background. The filmed bombed critically and at the box office, though the director in his book Making Movies maintains this is one of the best films he ever made.
The hysterical and mentally unstable Susan becomes involved in antiwar demonstrations during the Vietnam war and joins the SDA, hoping to overthrow the government. Daniel is an apolitical graduate student who is only stirred to reexamine his parents’ lives after his sister’s attempt at suicide lands her in a loony bin, hoping if he can find the truth about his parents through doing some detective work he will be able help his schizophrenic sister and become a better person because he will get to know his parents. Daniel is helped by his supportive wife Phyllis; his adoptive parents Robert and Lise Lewin, who don’t seem to know what to make of their adoptive children, who are always at each other’s throats; and the Isaacson’s lawyer Jacob Ascher, who voices proper concern over his client’s welfare. —Ozu’s World of Movie reviews
Sidney Lumet (born June 25, 1924) is an American film director, with over 50 films to his name, including 12 Angry Men (1957), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982), all of which, except for Serpico (1973), earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director.
According to The Encyclopedia of Hollywood, Lumet is one of the most prolific directors of the modern era making more than one movie per year on average since his directorial debut in 1957. He is especially noted for his ability to draw major actors to his projects. “Because of his visual economy, strong direction of actors, vigorous storytelling and use of the camera to accent themes,” states Turner Classic Movies. “Lumet produced a body of work that could only be defined as extraordinary.”
One of his steady themes during his career has been the “fragility of justice and the police and their corruption,” according to Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film. He can deliver… read more