Q & A. TriStar, 1990. Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton, Armand Assante, Patrick O’Neal, Jenny Lumet. Based on th ebook by Edwin Torres. Screenplay and director: Sidney Lumet.

   Long after you’ve forgotten the labyrinthian plot of Q & A, you will remember Nick Nolte. In Sidney Lumet’s gritty film, Nolte’s character isn’t so much an actor as he is a force of nature. Brutal, strong, domineering, and aggressive are just several words to describe NYPD Lieutenant Mike Brennan. A man so devoted to his career that he seems to have no identity beyond it, Brennan is not just a blatant racist and homophobe.

   He’s a dangerous killer, a man who has been so thoroughly corrupted that, at some level, he no longer knows who exactly he is supposed to answer to. Is it the corrupt lawyer in the DA’s office who has dirt on him? Is it the Mafia boss whose dirty work he is willing to do, if it means murdering a Puerto Rican drug dealer, a man no one in respectable society is going to miss anyway?

   When Brennan starts feeling the heat from Assistant DA Reilly (Timothy Hutton), he becomes unhinged with rage. Willing to do next to anything for the sake of self-preservation, Brennan embarks upon a brutal murder spree that takes him from the mean streets of Harlem to sunny San Juan. In his sights is drug lord Bobby Texador (Armand Assante), a stereotypical bad guy with a conscience, who is now living with Reilly’s former flame (Jenny Lumet).

   While the first half of the movie is quite compelling, the latter hour ends up getting bogged down in multiple plot threads that become somewhat difficult to follow. Everything eventually ties up together, but in such a manner that makes one realize that certain scenes either weren’t absolutely necessary to make the film work (think: the love triangle between Hutton, Assante, and Lumet) or went on too long.

   It is after all the scenes with Nolte that makes this lesser known Lumet feature worth watching. Apparently, he gained forty pounds for the role, believing that his character needed to be a physically imposing presence. It was a good decision. Nolte’s Mike Brennan belongs in the pantheon of cinematic corrupt cops. He’s that memorable a character. Loud, vulgar, and brash, he’s terrifying to the two detectives tasked with investigating him. For good reason.