Guilty as Sin

(Sidney Lumet, USA, 1993)


Many video buffs with a taste for B cinema long ago formed a strong attachment to the films of writer-director Larry Cohen (Q – The Winged Serpent [1982], Blind Alley [1984], The Stuff [1985]). In his work, brilliant script ideas co-exist with a crazy, scattershot filmic technique – and his fans wouldn’t want it any other way.

Guilty as Sin heralds the unlikely meeting of Cohen as writer with that slick, socially committed director Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker [1964], Q&A [1990]). What is curious and rather entrancing about the result is that Lumet, seemingly by an irresistible osmosis, has made a film as flat, minimal and daffy as Larry’s cheapest masterpiece.

The story is a fairly predictable variation on successful intimacy thrillers like Single White Female (1992). Rebecca De Mornay – an extremely limited actor – plays a lawyer out to defend a seductive, game-playing client (Don Johnson) who may or may not be killing his wealthy lovers.

There are occasionally piquant moments of high political incorrectness – such as when Johnson compares strangling with gloves on to wearing a condom – but generally, this a curiosity strictly for Cohen devotees. The passage of the years has, however, sharpened its nutty edges – especially when encountered randomly on cable TV.

MORE Lumet: Close to Eden, Fail-Safe, Night Falls on Manhattan, Power, Prince of the City, 12 Angry Men, The Morning After

MORE Cohen: Phone Booth

© Adrian Martin February 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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