Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Melanie Griffith, Eric Thal, John Pankow, Tracy Pollan, Lee Richardson, Mia Sara, Jamey Sheridan, Jake Weber | Director: Sidney Lumet | Writer: Robert J. Avrech
“A Stranger Among Us” is really two films in one. On one level, it’s a typical “whodunit” cop story. On another, it’s a showcase for Hasidic Judaism.
When a Hasidic jeweler in New York’s diamond district is murdered and a large amount of diamonds is stolen in an apparent “inside job,” detective Emily Eden (Melanie Griffith) persuades the Hasidic community to let her go undercover as a recent convert or “one who has returned,” in order to catch the killer. The tightly-knit, family-oriented life of the Hasidic community is favorably contrasted with the coldness of the outside world. Many beliefs and customs (the traditions of the Oral Law, and even the Kabala) are explained for Emily’s benefit (and ours). Remember that there’s a strong Jewish presence in the positions of power in Hollywood; Christian groups with a distinctive subculture usually don’t get this kind of sympathetic treatment in movies.
There’s no sexual content; some profanity and violence, as would be expected in a PG-13 police drama. The center focus of the film is the relationship that develops between Emily and the Rebbe’s son Ariel (Eric Thal)—a romance that must remain just a respectful friendship because of religious and cultural differences.