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Stranger Danger in Lumet’s Troubled Romantic Thriller “A Stranger Among Us” (1992) | Blu-ray Review

One of the few misfires of director Sidney Lumet’s extensive and impressive filmography, his 1992 romantic thriller A Stranger Among Us finds itself recuperated on Blu-ray. Infamously starring a miscast Melanie Griffith as an NYC cop who goes undercover as a Hasidic Jew to catch a killer lurking amongst their tight-knit community, the film was the fourth and last time Lumet competed at the Cannes Film Festival (after its premiere, the title was re-cut, with most of Jamey Sheridan’s subplot as Griffith’s partner cum lover removed). Written by Robert J. Avrech (who had penned De Palma’s 1984 thriller Body Double, which featured Griffith and who would thereafter write television features), the plot is basically a lopsided love triangle masquerading as a murder mystery (which is predictably resolved in painfully conspicuous, amateurish terms).

While Avrech’s script, which might as well be a sci-fi film in its depiction of NYPD operations, is mostly at fault, Griffith casts a dubious shadow over the proceedings as trigger-happy Emily Eden, whose modernity as a free-loving woman is meant to juxtapose with the cloistered Hasidic community. Instead she comes across as vulgar, tactless and as uninformed as the entire film is about either of the communities it depicts. Still, Griffith is sometimes plucky, though she scored double Razzie nods in 1992 for her work here and in David Seltzer’s romantic period thriller Shining Through, in which she is as inexplicably cast as an undercover Nazi hunter in WWII.

The rest of the cast rummages around in wan characterizations, with cops written as clichés (such as the piggy, ignorant John Pankow) and the Jews written as conservative simpletons (a wasted Mia Sara and a handsome but doltish Eric Thal in his onscreen debut). James Gandolfini also makes his debut as a mobster looking to capitalize on the catalyzing murder by strong-arming the dead man’s family into accepting his services.

A Stranger Among Us is a far cry from Lumet’s classic offerings, which includes 12 Angry Men, Network, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. While many of his 1990s offerings were misfires, even Guilty as Sin (1993) or his 1999 remake of John Cassavetes’ classic Gloria featuring Sharon Stone have aged better. Attempting to capitalize on the winning formula of Harrison Ford amidst the Amish in 1985’s Witness, it’s a title which could have worked with proper casting (however, famous gentile women playing Hasidic Jews has been oft-repeated, with varying degrees of success, from Vanessa Paradis in Fading Gigolo to the Rachel Weisz/Rachel Macadams lesbian melodrama Disobedience from Sebastian Lelio in 2017).

Film Rating: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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