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.


Hardened New York City homicide detective Emily Eden (Melanie Griffith), daughter of a divorced former cop, and her partner Nick (Jamey Sheridan) attempt to arrest two drug dealers. However, Nick is stabbed by one of the dealers, whom Emily wounds instead of alerting assistance, as a result, she temporarily has her gun taken away by her superior Lt. Oliver (David Margulies), after Nick is hospitalized, eventually heading to recovery, while the dealers have been apprehended, Emily goes undercover to investigate the murder of a Hasidic diamond-cutter named Yaakov Klausman (Jake Weber). She questions 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, Emily changes her appearance and 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 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 Yaakov 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.

After a dinner with the rebbe's family, Emily arrests the Baldessari brothers Anthony (James Gandolfini) and Christopher (Chris Latta) for blackmailing the rebbe's daughter Leah (Mia Sara) into working for them and Yaakov's murder. The brothers, however, manage to escape, running from Emily; in the ensuing chase, Emily's new partner Levine (John Pankow) who has alerted assistance is injured, while Emily kills the brothers. Before succumbing to his wounds, Anthony tearfully admits to Emily that he and Christopher were not responsible for Yaakov's death, then Emily and Ariel finally believe Anthony.

Having solved the case such as Mara now an accessory to murder, Emily rejects Nick's proposal, secretly romances Ariel to overcome her personal problems, and returns to the rebbe's home with him, but finds that Mara has taken Leah hostage, after Emily attempts to negotiate, Mara knocks her out, and Ariel kills Mara with Emily's revolver, avenging Yaakov. Ariel comments that sometimes an evil deed has a partially good result. Emily is hospitalized for an examination, while the rebbe and his family say goodbye to her. Ariel and his basherte Shayna Singer (Rena Sofer) get married, in which a now-recovered Emily watches from a distance. Eventually, she returns to work and catches up with an also now-recovered Levine, who is on leave and invites her on a two-week trip to Aruba. However, she declines and decides to wait for her bashert.


  • Melanie Griffith — Emily Eden, a hardened New York detective and the main protagonist.
  • Eric Thal — Ariel, Leah's brother and the rebbe's biological son.
  • Mia Sara — Leah, Ariel's sister and the rebbe's biological daughter.
  • Tracy Pollan — Mara, the fiancee of Yaakov and the main antagonist.
  • Lee Richardson — Rebbe, Ariel and Leah's biological father, and Mara's adopted father.
  • John Pankow — Levine, Emily's new partner.
  • Jamey Sheridan — Nick, Emily's former partner.
  • James Gandolfini — Anthony Baldessari, a criminal and Christopher's younger brother.
  • Chris Latta — Christopher Baldessari, another criminal and Anthony's older brother.
  • Jake Weber — Yaakov Klausman, Mara's fiance and Ariel's best friend.
  • David Margulies — Lt. Oliver, Emily's superior.
  • Rena Sofer — Shayna Singer, Ariel's basherte.


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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