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Given the breadth of Lumet’s oeuvre, it’s debatable whether or not he has a distinctive, recognizable style. The canon encompasses such a large canvas, it is impossible to say whether or not his films are instantly recognizable. There are, however, trademark characteristics: gritty New York urban realism, dynamic and snappy dialogue coupled with frequent collaborations with the best actors and writers in the business. These collaborations captivated film critics and the public alike, as both bore witness to Lumet’s talent for translating text to screen. Lumet’s politics are unabashedly liberal and often elicit distrust of the establishment as characters challenge the status quo. As Chuck Bowen writes, “Real patriotism isn’t self-congratulatory.”15 Lumet’s films don’t chastise the society that gave rise to them from a place of apathetic nihilism, rather, Lumet challenges his characters and audiences to do better. To live up to American ideals. To hold these truths as self-evident, that all men are created equal.


This article originally appeared in April 2021 in Senses of Cinema magazine.



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