Daniel is a Sidney Lumet film, based on a book by E.L Doctorow (The Book of Daniel), which is in turn loosely based on the Rosenberg Trial. The name of the couple has changed here to Isaacson, and the story focuses on their son Daniel, contrasting his activism in the 1960s and their involvement with the Communist Party of the late 1940s and early 1950s. By all accounts the book maintains that focus, but the film does spend considerable time on the parents. That makes sense, because Lumet was in the category that used to be called ‘fellow travellers’ at that time, but never a full-blown Party member.
Daniel is played by Timothy Hutton, who had just won an Oscar for Ordinary People when the film came out. It’s a messy film, perhaps a bit too long, but of course it‘s well-directed. Ellen Barkin appears, as does Amanda Plummer, so you can’t fault the cast. Doctorow adapted his book for the script and that could be the origin of the problem, as authors sometimes aren’t detached enough from the material to make the page to screen transition.
The film came at the end of the great run Lumet had in the 70s and early 80s, when he was making many consistently good films—making at least one movie almost every year—coming right after The Verdict and Prince of the City. It’s what you’d expect with putting Lumet together with that material. Of course, now most people know that the Rosenbergs were guilty, but this is a fictionalised take in which that is less clear. In any case. Its an interesting film about an intriguing era of American history. You do see the effect that the parents’ execution has on their children, with the daughter (Plummer) losing her mind.