I've known about PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) since it was released. I remember the fanfare surrounding it specifically because of the lead performance by Treat Williams. At the time he was being touted as a probable Oscar nominee for the film and much attention was paid to him because of the expected attention this film would bring. This supposed star making role was talked about in the press with comparisons being made to Pacino and Deniro. Then the film was released, flopped and those wild speculations about Treat becoming another big dramatic actor screen presence faded. Williams went on to a solid but unimpressive career as a jobbing actor taking roles where he could in movies and television.
Now that I've finally seen PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) I can understand why the film didn't do so well and why it's lead actor might not have blown people away. The film is a strong Sidney Lumet crime story based on real events with two major flaws. The first is that it's nearly three hours long. Although I was never bored while watching this on a recent Friday evening, it did feel a little overlong by about the two hour mark. Lumet was a master filmmaker, he has plenty of story to tell and he handles things well but it's just too long.
The other flaw is Treat Williams' much anticipated performance. I have to admit that I've never found Mr. Williams to be a particularly strong screen actor. I think he is competent but mannered and stiff. Here he advances his emotional arc within a scene far too quickly in some very important moments crippling his character's intent. The first time I noticed this was when he is explaining to two Internal Investigators why he is going to help them take down crooked cops. He goes from normal to frenzied with nearly no warning making it difficult for me to know if he was being honest with the IA cops or leading them on with a line of bull. He is actually sincere but this problem with him making emotional leaps with no subtly happens repeatedly in the movie. By the third one I realized that he was doing something that might have worked better on the stage but with the intimacy of film it comes off as phony.
Overall I think PRINCE OF THE CITY is a very good film but it has a critical weakness at it's center. That makes it a failed classic but a still worthy effort.