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Mike's Strange Cinema Cavalcade - A STRANGER AMONG US

a stranger among us review
Sidney Lumet's thriller set in New York's Hasidic Jewish community.

Review by Mike Vaughn

Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Melanie Griffith, Mia Sara, Eric Thal, Tracy Pollan, Lee Richardson, James Gandolfini

a stranger among us bluray

In his long career Sidney Lumet was nominated for five Oscars and directed such classics as the incredible 12 Angry Men (1957) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to name just a couple. Sadly though, his output after the '80s wasn’t exactly stellar, with only a few noteworthy movies from then to his last film in 2007.

When a disappeared Hasidic Jewish man is found dead, detective Emily Eden (Melanie Griffith) goes deep undercover within New York's Orthodox Jewish community, attempting to blend in, in order to catch the killer.

a stranger among us review

Given its plot, at face value A Stranger Among Us feels like it could easily be a fish-out-of-water comedy with crime elements. While obviously this isn’t the case, it almost feels like an unintentional comedy at times.

[ READ MORE: Mike's Strange Cinema Cavalcade - Charlie's Angels ]

This film has two huge flaws. First, the writing. The film focuses on lukewarm drama and a weak romance plot rather than a solid mystery. It's almost like the film totally gives up on the crime story altogether and takes a back seat to what feels like TV movie filler, certainly not something that would be directed by the great Sidney Lumet. The dialogue is so tin-pan and cringy at times that it's hard not to laugh. It makes an already woefully (and wonderfully) dated film seem even worse somehow.

a stranger among us review

The second issue is with lead actor Griffith. I hate to single out an actor but Griffith is flat and feels utterly miscast as a hard-boiled detective. When she commands orders she doesn’t bark them, she squeaks them, making it more funny than serious. Also I feel like she never carried herself like a true Academy trained officer. For example, there is a scene in which her character chases down a criminal and the way she carries her gun is more like a prop rather than a police tool. I would have rather had someone like Jodie Foster in the role. I also couldn’t help but feel that the runtime was bloated, with the film coming in just under two hours.

[ READ MORE: Mike's Strange Cinema Cavalcade - The Thing (2011) ]

What saves this film from being a total trainwreck is Lumet's sincerity for the subject matter. He keeps things grounded for the most part and shows some reverence for the Jewish faith. There are some really well-handled scenes, like the feast and celebration, which is beautifully lit, and I can't speak from a Jewish American standpoint but it seemed to have authenticity. This is not surprising, as Lumet always had a deep love of the Jewish faith, which he studied while researching the novel 'Marjorie Morningstar' in the '70s for a possible adaptation.

a stranger among us review

A Stranger Among Us is a cheesy '90s movie that is nearly so bad it's enjoyable, which is why I decided to review this one in the first place. It's really said that a once brilliant director could fall this low but it's also so unabashedly bad it makes for fun viewing given the right crowd.

Kino Lorber, as always, does a great job at restoring this film, such as it is. The picture isn’t blown out bright and skin tones have a nice natural look. Everything is crisp and clear in what I believe is a 2K transfer. Kino never disappoints in this area and there are no film or digital artifacts to be found. The film features a commentary by the screenwriter as well as a trailer.

A Stranger Among Us is on blu-ray December 10th from Kino Lorber.

Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”

His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @gorehound_mike.