Q&A (film)

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Q & A
Q&A film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySidney Lumet
Produced byBurtt Harris
Arnon Milchan
Written bySidney Lumet
Edwin Torres (book)
Music byRubén Blades
CinematographyAndrzej Bartkowiak
Edited byRichard P. Cirincione
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • April 27, 1990 (1990-04-27) (U.S.)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11,207,891

Q & A is a 1990 American crime film written and directed by Sidney Lumet, based on a novel by New York State Supreme Court judge Edwin Torres. It stars Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton and Armand Assante.


Mike Brennan, a tough, crude, decorated NYPD detective lieutenant, has a hidden dark side as well as a partnership with certain figures of organized crime. Brennan shoots and kills a small-time Puerto Rican criminal and then threatens witnesses to testify that he acted in self-defense. The Head of the District Attorneys Homicide Bureau, Kevin Quinn assigns the case to Deputy District Attorney Aloysius "Al" Francis Reilly, a young lawyer with a past as a police officer and the son of an NYPD cop who was killed in the line of duty. Reilly collects Brennan's deposition, who claims to have been acting on a tip from an informant and was forced to shoot in self-defense. Reilly's case leads him to a Puerto Rican crime boss called "Bobby Tex," Texador, whose wife Nancy Bosch was once the love of Reilly's life. She ended their relationship years ago after interpreting Al's reaction of surprise as racist when she introduced him to her father, a black man. Al tries to rekindle their past romance, but she rejects him because with Bobby, she feels loved, protected and accepted for who and what she is.

Al, along with detectives Sam "Chappie" Chapman and Luis Valentin, has doubts about the dynamics of the event, knowing the environment of the Puerto Rican underworld. Investigations reveal a link between Quinn and Brennan, while the latter goes on the trail of Roger "the dodger" Montalvo, the only witness who can disprove his testimony of self-defense. Brennan tries threatening Valentin and offering to bribe Chappie for help in finding Montalvo and shutting him up. Meanwhile, Bobby Tex is "invited" by the Mafia to step aside as a drug dealer, as Brennan's support is still useful to them. Bobby, in turn, begins looking for Montalvo to use as leverage against Brennan. At the same time he begins to shut down his business in order to retire to private life with Nancy in Puerto Rico.

Bobby finds Montalvo before Brennan does, and together they leave for Puerto Rico, where the smuggler owns a mansion and a yacht. Here he is joined by Al, called secretly to give him an important information about the case. Al, after informing Chief Deputy District Attorney Bloomenfeld, he goes to the island, where it is revealed that Quinn nicknamed "Skinny") was once part of Bobby's street gang, and participated in a murder by shooting a rival gang member. Brennan appears to be hunting down all of the gang's former members on Quinn's orders, with the intention of erasing Quinn's past to fulfill Quinn's political ambitions to run for the office of NY State Attorney General. Brennan is forced to go along with it because Quinn is holding an abuse of authority charge over him.

Even the Mafia intends to close accounts with both Bobby and Brennan, whose position is becoming increasingly untenable. They fail in an attempt to kill Bobby, who has announced his retirement. Meanwhile, Brennan is able to find Montalvo's lover, the transgender José Malpica, and using a voice message from Roger that he is "on a boat chalked the 'Nancy' in Puerto Rico) then kills Malpica after listening to a message from Montalvo on his answering machine that reveals his location. Brennan finds Roger and strangles him. He then slices the boat's fuel line and waits for Bobby to arrive. A phone call made by Al saves Nancy at the last moment, but Bobby is killed in the subsequent explosion.

Al procures an arrest warrant for Brennan but fails to catch him at the airport. He returns to the DA's office to find Brennan waiting for him. Brennan reveals the truth about Al's father; that he was a bagman and bigot, who was sort of a "line" to keep minorities down, and shoots Chappie when he tries to intervene. Brennan is then shot dead by another officer.

Al is summoned by Quinn, who informs him that he is aware of his activities, but the Department is going to hush up the incident to avoid embarrassment in the year's upcoming mayoral election. When Al threatens to go to the papers, Bloomenfeld tells him that he has ways of preventing that too, and in turn reminds Al that sources in the mayor's office could leak evidence of misconduct on the part of his late father, which would deny his mother her widows service pension.

Feeling betrayed and disillusioned, Al trashes his desk and office and resigns from the DA's office. He searches for Nancy, hoping she will return to him but when he finds her in Puerto Rico, she replies to his questions about getting back together for a possible marriage only with silence as she is mourning Bobby's death.



To prepare for his role in the film, Timothy Hutton went on squad-car runs with NYPD officers in order to get an idea of the challenges they faced on the streets. Hutton said, "In many cases the hands of the officer on the street are tied".[1] Nick Nolte put on 40 lbs. for the film because he felt that the character he played required it: "Just the sheer mass of brutality. I felt that would be the right kind of thing. He had to be on the edge of his own dissipation".[2]


Q&A received positive reviews from critics, as the film holds an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews.

Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "It is fascinating the way this movie works so well as a police thriller on one level, while on other levels it probes feelings we may keep secret even from ourselves".[3] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Great little scenes overshadow bigger, more important ones. Characters come and go at speed. Watching the movie is an entertaining ride, but when it is over it is difficult to remember where, exactly, one has been".[4]

Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "Lumet tries to cram too much in ... But he's onto something, and you can sense his excitement. This is Lumet's boldest film in years -- a combustible drama with a vivid, shocking immediacy. The director is back at the top of his game".[5]

In his review for The Washington Post, Hal Hinson praised Nick Nolte's performance: "This actor doesn't flinch in the least from his character's unsavoriness; instead he seems to glory in his crumpled suits and unwashed hair, as if they were a kind of spiritual corollary. Nolte gives Brennan a kind of monumental brutishness -- he makes him seem utterly indomitable".[6]

USA Today gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "Overkill ultimately wears Q & A down, despite two bravura performances and some Hutton understatement that's adequate to the task. So, too, does unrelenting sordidness, a deadly love angle and a score (Ruben Blades) almost as awful as Cy Coleman's sabotage of Lumet's Family Business".[7]

In his review for The Globe and Mail Rick Groen praised Armand Assante's performance: "in a role that could easily descend into cliche - the crook with a moral code - Assante does his best work to date, always keeping on the safe side of the stereotype".[8] Newsweek magazine's David Ansen wrote, "Nolte, with a big paunch and a walrus mustache, is a truly dangerous presence here; he uses his threatening body and a high, strained voice to stunning, scary effect. Like the movie, Nolte really gets in your face and, for a long time afterwards, sticks in your craw".[9]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Q & A is a major film by one of our finest mainstream directors. As both a portrait of modern-day corruption and an act of sheer storytelling bravura, it is not to be missed".[10]


  1. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (April 13, 1990). "At the Movies". The New York Times. p. 8.
  2. ^ Mitchell, Sean (April 26, 1990). "Nolte Gets Away with Murder". Toronto Star. pp. B1.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 27, 1990). "Q & A". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  4. ^ Canby, Vincent (April 27, 1990). "Nick Nolte as a Corrupt Detective". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  5. ^ Travers, Peter (April 11, 2001). "Q & A". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  6. ^ Hinson, Hal (April 27, 1990). "Q & A". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  7. ^ Clark, Mike (April 27, 1990). "Forceful acting tries to answer a questionable script". USA Today. pp. 9D.
  8. ^ Groen, Rick (April 27, 1990). "Q&A". The Globe and Mail.
  9. ^ Ansen, David (May 7, 1990). "The Melting Pot Boils Over". Newsweek. p. 65.
  10. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (April 27, 1990). "Q&A". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-12-11.

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