July 3rd, 2008

DANIEL (1983) **

Sidney (Dog Day Afternoon) Lumet directed this fictionalized account of the Rosenberg case (they are renamed here The Isaccsons) and the subsequent effect the fallout of the trial had on their children.  Timothy Hutton stars as Daniel, whose parents (Mandy Patinkin and Lindsay Crouse) were sent to the electric chair for selling the Russians classified government secrets.  Years later, a bitter Daniel tracks down key movers and shakers in the case and tries to piece together whether or not his folks were actually guilty of the crime. 


The film’s structure rips off Godfather 2 as we see scenes of Daniel in the 60’s trying to come to grips with the fallout of his parents’ death interspersed with sepia toned flashbacks of the 30’s in which the Isaccsons try to instill their kids with their Communist left wing dogma.  This storytelling device would’ve been fine and dandy except that the flashbacks don’t have any real rhyme or reason to them.  Since each scene fails to build on the next, it ultimately derails the film and lessens its intended impact. 


Another problem is that Lumet never offers up a concrete conclusion.  For all of Daniel’s digging into the past, he never learns one way or another if his parents were actually guilty of the crime or just patsies.  If we knew for a fact that they were railroaded, the ambiguous ending would’ve worked a lot better.  As it plays out, things are open-ended which leaves the audience with a sour taste in its mouths.  Lumet also tossed in one too many scenes of pointless hippie demonstrating for my tastes.


That’s not to say the film is not without its merits.  Any fan of Hutton will want to check this out sight unseen because he gives another terrific performance in this flick.  Patinkin is also good and Amanda (Pulp Fiction) Plummer, Ed (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) Asner and Ellen (Switch) Barkin all lend fine support as well.


Daniel is coming to DVD for the first time by the good folks at Legend Films.  To pre-order your copy today, visit their website at www.legendfilms.net.