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Film / Prince of the City

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"I don't know why you people don't understand the system. You want a conviction, but you've got these stupid search and seizure laws. And wiretaps. Case one never got made without an illegal wiretap. And you're never gonna get a conviction if a cop don't commit perjury. What is it that you want? You want the big dealer out of business? The only way I know to push him out of business is to steal his cash. Otherwise somewhere down the line, he's gonna buy out. He'll buy himself a bondsman. A DA. A judge. The scumbag dealer's back on the streets before the arresting officer."
Raf Alvarez

Prince of the City is a 1981 film directed by Sidney Lumet, adapted from the nonfiction book of the same name by Robert Daley. It has a large cast (126 speaking roles) led by Treat Williams.

Daniel Ciello (Williams) is a New York City narcotics detective who reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he's in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Anti-Villain: There are arguably no true "villains" in the film to speak of—everyone is oddly sympathetic in some way.
  • Big Rotten Apple: New York City at its most corrupt.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The crackdown is successful, and Daniel has a new career as an instructor for investigators. However, his part in the investigation led to the implication of many of his friends on the force — which is specifically what he fought to prevent from happening. As such, he has to live with his image being tarnished in the eyes of most of the cops from the "old days".
  • Crapsack World: A major theme in the film is how corruption is everywhere, and that even basically honest man will therefore dabble in it out of what they feel to be necessity.
  • Film Noir: The film is essentially a cop-film-meets-legal-drama channeled through a strong Noir "mood".
  • Hollywood Law: Plays with this occasionally in mild ways—most notably in the Alvarez quote above.
  • Shout-Out: The second half of the film makes constant references to The French Connection case.
  • Wham Shot: At least two big ones. The film is divided into segments, each beginning with ID photos or mugshots of people that will play a part in Danny's life, accompanied by a quote from Danny. At first, it's Danny and his partners, then the Chase Commission lawyers, then mobsters that Danny has dealt with in the past... then an ID of Gino Mascone, a respected detective that Danny is close to, shows up, and the quote is, "But I never meant to hurt Gino." Danny is getting roped into turning on people he is close to.
    • The second Wham Shot is the last set of pictures: Danny and his partners. After spending so much time trying to avoid getting his partners involved, Danny will have to turn on them.