A Stranger Among Us

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A Stranger Among Us
Stranger among us poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Steve Golin
Howard Rosenman
Sigurjón Sighvatsson
Written by Robert J. Avrech
Starring Melanie Griffith
Music by Jerry Bock
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Edited by Andrew Mondshein
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • July 17, 1992 (1992-07-17)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $33 million
Box office $12 million

A Stranger Among Us is a 1992 film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Melanie Griffith. It tells the story of an undercover police officer's experiences in a Hasidic community. It was entered into the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[1] It is often cited as one of Lumet's two failures of the 1990s, the other being Guilty as Sin (1993). Despite the poor reviews suffered by both these films, Lumet received the 1993 D. W. Griffith Award of the Directors Guild of America. The film was also the first credited role for actor James Gandolfini.


Emily Eden (Griffith), a hardened New York City homicide detective, goes undercover to investigate the murder of a Hasidic diamond-cutter after her partner Nick (Jamey Sheridan) is injured and hospitalized while they attempt to arrest two drug dealers. The incident has caused Emily to lose her gun after failing to call for backup and shooting one of the dealers. After getting her gun back, she goes to live with the family of the Hasidic rebbe (Lee Richardson), an elderly Holocaust survivor who is revered for his wisdom and compassion toward his fellow Jews. He says to her, "You and I have something in common: We are both intimately familiar with evil. It does something to your soul."

While living with the rebbe's family, she takes a liking to his son, Ariel (Eric Thal), a young man who works as a diamond-cutter but teaches in the yeshiva and is expected to follow his father as the next rebbe. In addition to keeping all 613 Mitzvot, he is waiting for his intended, or basherte, the daughter of a Paris rebbe whom he has not yet actually met. They are the subjects of an arranged marriage, but he believes that she is his soul mate, chosen by God. He is also studying the Kabbalah, which is regarded as rather daring for a man under 40. Its discussion of sexual intimacy is restrained but specific, as well as a metaphor for the relationship between Man and God. Emily, having assigned with a new partner named Levine (John Pankow) and developed a friendship with the rebbe's daughter Leah (Mia Sara), finds out that the "inside man" in the murder plot is the rebbe's adopted daughter Mara (Tracy Pollan), who had been living a disorderly life until the future murder victim, Yaakov Klausman (Jake Weber), introduced her to the rebbe. Afterwards, she joined the community as a repentant baalat tshuva, "one who has returned," until a person from her past approached her and she let him into the Diamond Center to steal diamonds worth about $750,000 and kill Yaakov.

Emily attempts to arrest the Baldessari brothers Anthony (James Gandolfini) and Christopher (Chris Latta) for racketeering, extortion and Yaakov's murder, but the brothers make an escape. While Levine is injured during a chase, Emily kills the Baldessari brothers who confess that they did not kill Yaakov. After solving the case, with Mara as an accessory to murder, Emily returns to the rebbe's home with Ariel, but finds that Mara has taken Leah hostage. After Emily attempts to negotiate, Mara knocks her out; and Ariel shoots Mara with Emily's revolver. Ariel comments that sometimes an evil deed has a partially good result. After regaining consciousness and seeing Mara dead, Emily is taken to a hospital. The rebbe and his family say goodbye to Emily, who has recovered from a concussion. Ariel and his basherte Shayna Singer get married, in which Emily watches from a distance. She catches up with Levine, who has recovered as well, before they go their separate ways.



A Stranger Among Us received negative reviews from critics. It currently holds a 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 39 reviews.[2] Some of the criticism of A Stranger Among Us is based on comparisons with the Academy Award-winning film Witness, which has a superficially similar plot. Similarly, Lumet's earlier film Fail-Safe was unfavorably compared to Dr. Strangelove, but in that case both films have subsequently achieved cult status. Griffith's performance in the lead role has also been heavily criticized, for which her role won her the Razzie Award for Worst Actress (also for the year's Worst Picture, Shining Through), while Tracy Pollan was nominated for Worst Supporting Actress.


Some aspects of the plot recall the 1977 murder of diamond dealer Pinchos Jaroslawicz.

The filming of the shootout took place at the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


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