How the FBI Crippled Organized Crime
"Find Me Guilty"
The 82-year old Sidney Lumet has been around a while. Best known for his excellent black and white jury drama, "12 Angry Men," which may be one of the 10-best for the century, he's directed over 60 films. But, in this courtroom drama about a landmark case against the crime families of New York and New Jersey under the RICO statutes, Mr. Lumet's directing style could use an oxygen boost. Mr. Lumet's MO (modus operandi) are stories adapted from the written word. While not from his usual literary source in this case, let's all agree that actual court transcripts do count as written word. And, clearly, he likes the legal process, as well. What this trial case brings him is as much theatre as a question of justice. It wasn't just the legal system going after the mob with the new Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in its armory, but the exhibition of a rambunctious, comical defendant representing himself as his own lawyer and affecting the outcome for all his co-defendants. They just happen to be his former associates in the New Jersey Lucchesi crime family. The mob isn't pleased.
After being shot by his own disgruntled cousin, and turning down prosecutor Sean Kierney's (Linus Roache) offer to flip over to the government's side and rat against his friends, family and associates, Giacomo "Jackie" Dinorscio (Vin Diesel) decides to take on his own defense. Warned against the wisdom of it, he goes from making a fool of himself with courtroom shenanigans, and arguing his case while cross-examining witnesses, to becoming the most credible person in the room. "I'm not a gangster," he proclaims in his opening speech, "I'm a gagster." In other words, an uneducated slob of a guy who doesn't have the guile to deceive, distort or talk from anywhere but from the heart. As if. The trial lives up the term in more ways than one when it goes on for over a year, during which time our hero, no stranger to manipulation, learns how to use the system to pull heartstrings, put on a show, express contrition, feel the heat of animosity from his accused co-conspirators, and somehow come out in one piece. Diesel has done much with a limited talent. In a long stretch away from the comforts of his action hero persona, his charismatic presence enlivens a role calling for a straight character taking advantage of the sudden spotlight--something that appeals to his ego-driven desire for it. He appeals nicely as a sympathetic bad guy who shows he's not as much over his head as many expect. Peter Dinklage as lead attorney Ben Klandis is as articulate as he is reasonable, Annabella Sciorra gives an acting lesson in stunning intensity as Jackie's estranged wife that momentarily injects some hot dramatic blood into the generally routine emotional level. All other parts are adequately filled by the right type of (mostly) guys. But, therein lies the problem. Under Lumet's direction of a script by him, T.J. Mancini and Robert J. McCrea, cinematic sparks never quite achieve liftoff. With sometimes choppy editing of scenes to deepen the understanding of the characters and their situations, the general tenor is a firm reliance on the written word to carry the dramatic load while never rising to the exeptional in performance or any other vital aspect of movie making. Cinematic stimulation is not a part of the Lumet palette. His straightforward procedure leaves a gap in the dramatic potentials of a gang of mob bosses in one room for an extended time with a jurist as grand capo. While it's a case in the annals of organized crime worthy of focus, and it associates with "Good Night, and Good Luck" in the expose mold, nothing is overly brilliant here, except maybe Nick Calabrese's ring.