Saturday, April 9, 2011
Sidney Lumet, who directed two of the best legal movies of all time, "12 Angry Men" and "The Verdict," passed away today at the age of 86. Here is the New York Times story. Lumet is probably one of my favorite directors and one of the greatest directors of all time based upon movies like the above two, "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Network," and countless others. Probably my favorite moviegoing experience connected to Lumet actually involved a time when I ended up not seeing a Lumet film. My brother, dad, and I went to see "Night Falls on Manhattan" in May 1997 at the Surf & Sand Theater in Virginia Beach but ended up going into the wrong theater. As the lights went down and "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" began playing, we were all surprised, and my brother and I wondered whether my dad would actually enjoy the movie. It turned out that my dad, a big James Bond fan ("Thunderball" was my parents' first date, I believe), actually liked it.
Of course, we later caught up with "Night Falls on Manhattan," and it was one of Lumet's better post-1990 films, along with "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" and "Find Me Guilty." Below is my DVD review of Find Me Guilty:
Find Me Guilty
Echoing the sentiments of many, Time Out New York criticized Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty for its "lack of any coherent moral perspective." In my mind, this is the film's greatest virtue. Legal dramas often fall into 2 categories: the innocent defendant's struggle against government corruption and the noble prosecutor wading through red herrings to bring the elusive perpetrator to justice. In reality, "guilt" and "innocence" are not like oil and water and few involved in the criminal justice system are above some Machiavellian maneuvering. In other words, unlike several previous Lumet films, Find Me Guilty isn't about the one honest juror (Twelve Angry Men), cop (Serpico) or lawyer (The Verdict). Instead, it's about the ethical ebbs and flows that occurred during the longest criminal trial in U.S. history.
Find Me Guilty partially fictionalizes the 21 month trial of 21 members of the Lucchese crime family on a profligate 76 charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. More specifically, it focuses on the at-first laughable and then almost laudable attempts of Giacomo "Fat Jack" DiNorscio to serve as his own counsel and defend himself and his family from hard-charging prosecutors and a parade of government informants.
Lumet knows the inside of a courtroom as well as any district attorney (or Dick Wolf), but he's a little too hasty in getting us there as the film's early scenes elliptically zip by, providing us with a skeletal backstory that can barely support the meat of the film: the trial. Until roughly the 50 minute point, that trial plays a bit like My Cousin Vinny 2, as DiNorscio plays court jester, amusing jurors with raunchy anecdotes, but infuriating just about everyone else with his showboating and lack of respect for court decorum. But DiNorscio does have respect and an undying sense of loyalty for his family and he reigns in his buffoonery as the film settles into an authentic-feeling groove that's assisted by dialogue pulled largely from the trial's transcripts.
After Cousin Vinny himself, Joe Pesci, passed on the lead role, Vin Diesel stepped in and, after putting on some weight and donning a wig, he's capably charming. The standout performances, though, are in the supporting cast. Annabella Sciorra is dynamite in her one scene as DiNorscio's ex-wife, Ron Silver is sublime as the exasperated judge, Peter Dinkladge is spot-on as a silky smooth defense attorney, and Linus Roache nails the role of the district attorney who can't understand why jurors are reacting favorably to mobsters who cost them money every day as he simultaneously mounts one of the most costly prosecutions ever.
The 125-minute flick is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound nicely supporting Jonathan Tunick's jazzy score. The extras are limited to the film's trailer, TV spots, and "A Conversation with Sidney Lumet" (4:43). Unfortunately, the latter feature is nothing more than a string of truncated sound bites by the master director.