Find Me Guilty (3/10)
by Tony Medley
The Mafia, or the Cosa
Nostra, or the mob, whatever you want to call them, was the worst cancer
on the American psyche during the 20th Century. Obtaining
power in the early part of the century, through the genius of people
like Lucky Luciano and Myer Lansky, the mob perverted society in a
particularly pernicious way. Aided by the feckless FBI of J. Edgar
Hoover, who turned a blind eye, only occasionally did law enforcement
come to the aid of society. It was the Treasury Department that put away
Al Capone for tax evasion, not the FBI or any police force.
But, starting with the
Appalachia fiasco in 1957, the mob was eventually whittled away through
the efforts of people like Rudy Giuliani. It’s still around, but it’s
not quite as powerful as it was.
Hollywood rarely represented
the mob for the sociopaths they were, often picturing them as harmless
comic figures. That’s the tack director Sidney Lumet takes in “Find Me
Guilty.” Giuliani brought a huge indictment against The Lucchese Family
which came to trial in 1987 and took 21 months to try 20 defendants.
Each defendant had his own attorney, except, that is, for Giacomo
“Jackie Dee” Dinorscio (Vin Diesel), a member of The Lucchese family,
who represented himself.
Dinorscio identifies himself
as a “gagster,” not a “gangster.” If so, we don’t see much of it in this
movie. Dinorscio says a lot of pretty stupid and silly things, but none
of them are very funny. Diesel is monumentally miscast if he is supposed
to be funny and make us laugh, because he doesn’t. Where is Steve Martin
when we really need him for a role he could actually perform?
According to screenwriters
Lumet, T.J. Mancini & Robert McCrea, they took much of their dialogue
from the trial transcripts. Given the fact that they had to convert 21
months of trial into a 126-minute movie, obviously 99.99% of the trial
had to be left out. But what they chose to put in was singularly banal
They picture the mob as a
bunch of harmless buffoons, except for the Boss of the family, Nick
Calabrese (Alex Rocco), who appears humorless and fierce. The others
could have had rubber noses and big shoes, which is all that separates
them from being real clowns. The truth about these monsters is far
removed from this movie, and it is difficult to understand why. There is
not one word of testimony shown about any of the 20 defendants
committing any crime, like, for instance, murder, racketeering,
drug-dealing, and extortion, just to name a few. To picture such vicious
sociopathic killers in such a benign, nonjudgemental way is a crime in
Diesel is joined in his
inadequacy by Peter Dinklage, who plays attorney Ben Klandis. Dinklage's
performance as what appears to be the lead attorney is singularly
On the other side, joining
Rocco in giving a good performance, is Ron Silver, playing trial Judge
Finestein. He is given a thankless task by the inept script, but he
comes across as an understanding jurist who gives Dinorscio a lot of
This movie portrays the bad
guys, the mob, as the good guys. Consistent with that, federal
prosecutor Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) is a real heavy. Director Lumet
is 80 years old, but that’s no excuse for this reprehensible point of
view that urges the audience to root for the mob.
Where the movie totally falls
apart is when Tony Compagna (Raoul Eparza), who shoots Jackie at the
beginning of the film, takes the stand. This is set up throughout the
film as the ultimate, the climax. This guy is the government’s prime
witness. Jackie is going to cross examine him. What will happen?
What happens should be shown
in film schools as the classic anti-climax. Kierney’s direct examination
of him, and it looks like it’s the entire testimony, concerns his
relationship with Jackie, and consists of no more than five questions.
Jackie’s entire cross examination is about how Tony was Jackie’s friend,
he was his cousin. How, queries counselor Jackie, could Tony shoot him?
Making matters much worse, Lumet & Co. imply that that’s why the trial
ended the way it did. This is not silly enough to qualify as ludicrous.
The worst thing that can be
said about a comedy is that it’s not funny. This is not funny. The next
worst thing that could be said about a movie is that it’s irresponsible.
This is irresponsible. What’s next for Lumet and his crew; a musical
comedy about John Gotti?
March 1, 2006