First up, David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter: “How fitting that By Sidney Lumet, documentary maker Nancy Buirski’s engrossing career chronicle of the prolific director, begins with a clip from 12 Angry Men in which Henry Fonda‘s reasonable doubt over the case being argued makes him the lone holdout of the dozen jurors. Built around an exhaustive video interview with Lumet recorded three years before his death in 2011, the film provides a detailed survey of his work. It also sheds light on the profoundly moral and inherently democratic sensibility that shaped his output, in which questions of justice and fairness provide a thematic bedrock, albeit one that Lumet claims was formed more by accident than design.”
Ben Kenigsberg at RogerEbert.com: “While the film is not as tightly edited or structured as it might have been, it—or really, he, since the movie consists only of Lumet talking and clips—makes an eloquent case for his work’s attraction to radicals and questioners as characters. Lumet shares great insights on Dog Day Afternoon and Network and on how his army experiences influenced Fail Safe and The Hill…. Lumet notes that he took knocks from auteurists for working in a wide variety of subjects and genres, yet he sees a common question at the core of all his films: ‘Is it fair?'”
“Lumet always presents filmmaking as a down-to-earth entrepreneurial process which goes right—as he put it in his book Making Movies—when everyone involved is making the same film,” writes Irina Trocan for Movie Mezzanine. “It’s to Buirski’s credit that, in editing the interview, she goes further in pursuing his influences in moral and political matters and how they come to structure his films. On Prince of the City, Lumet claims that he had initially distanced himself from the character (because, where he comes from, ‘a snitch is a snitch’) and that it was only when watching the first cut of the film that he knew where he stood.”
“The film isn’t exactly formally inventive (in fairness, it’s been made for PBS), and one could perhaps take it to task for a lack of objectivity, were Lumet not so winningly self-interrogating,” writes Oliver Lyttelton for the Playlist. “Buirski has crafted a film that feels less like a documentary and more like a long, wide-ranging, disarmingly honest, highly entertaining dinner conversation with a man who was one of cinema’s smartest, most articulate and most compassionate figures.”
Back in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Ariston Anderson talk with Buirski and executive producer Brett Ratner.
Listening (133’30”). Illusion Travels By Streetcar #59: The Dark Side of Sidney Lumet (1964-2007).