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A STRANGER AMONG US

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: At the peak of her popularity, following ‘Working Girl’ but before ‘Crazy in Alabama,’ Melanie Griffith dipped her toe into a variety of genres, playing lead roles in mostly ill-advised pictures such as this one. But Griffith’s fans have prevailed upon Kino Lorber to bless this crime/ethnic melodrama with a Blu-ray upgrade, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on July 17, 1992.

A feminist version of "Witness," set in a Hasidic Jewish community of New York instead of rural Amish country, "A Stranger Among Us" is a film with great potential that is blown at just about every turn.

The most insurmountable problem is the wild miscasting of Melanie Griffith as a hardened, maverick New York cop. But there are also huge plot holes, missed opportunities and a ridiculously sentimental view of people who live in the modern world but are not really a part of it.

The film opens with intercut scenes of Griffith and her partner busting a pair of thugs and those of a rabbinical student (newcomer Eric Thal) going about his fundamentalist way of life. When the bust goes bad and her partner is stabbed, Griffith raises her handgun and shoots one of the "perps," as she calls the perpetrators. Meanwhile, the gentle Thal is teaching children and poring over his books.

     

Sidney Lumet gives direction to Mia Sara, center, and Melanie Griffith on the set of 'A Stranger Among Us' (1992)

Griffith and Thal meet when she is called in to investigate a missing-person report. Thal's best friend, a fellow Hasidic Jew who is also a diamond-cutter for the community business they run downtown, has disappeared — along with more than $700,000 in diamonds.

After an awkward scene where she has her first meeting with Thal and the rabbi (Lee Richardson), during which her crass manner and course language are supposed to be humorous (the scene is more uncomfortable for the audience than Griffith's character), they go to the scene of the crime.

There, Griffith suggests the diamond-cutter may have run off with the diamonds. But when the young man's body is discovered, it becomes a murder investigation and is obviously an inside job.

So, Griffith goes undercover to ferret out the killer. She darkens her hair, dons more modest clothing and, with the help of young Mia Sara, as the rabbi's daughter, attempts to integrate herself with the Hasidic community.

     

This movie poster is for 'A Stranger Among Us' (1985) but with the title 'Close to Eden,' which was used for the film in the United Kingdom and Australia.

There are some amusing bits of business as the film progresses, showing the street-smart cop who feels empty inside trying to adapt to this foreign lifestyle where people live in an aura of mutual trust, respect and love. And despite its predictability there is some charm as she comes to admire the qualities of their simple lives.

What is less acceptable, however, is the forced romance between Griffith and Thal. Even worse is a contrived ending that requires Thal to use a handgun.

Further, veteran director Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men,” “Network”) is overly reverent with the subject matter here, bathing scenes of the Hasidic community in golden shafts of light and using a soft-focus lens to make those moments stand apart from shots of the inner city. And screenwriter Robert J. Avrech ("Body Double") has concocted a mystery that is far too obvious.

The most affecting performances come from Thal (in what is essentially his first professional job), Richardson as the rabbi, Sara as his daughter and John Pankow as a lapsed Jewish cop who describes the Hasidic Jews as "an embarrassment." They certainly rise above the material, which is just another unfortunate Hollywoodized view of life.

"A Stranger Among Us" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and some vulgar dialogue.