Friday, March 31, 2006

Movie: Find Me Guilty (2006)

So far 2006 has been a solid year for the New York crime thriller at the movies. First there was 16 Blocks, which blended old-school shoot-‘em-up with crooked cop saga and allowed Bruce Willis to do some meaty character work. Next came Inside Man, a sharp take on the bank robbery genre bristling with big city attitude and sly star turns.

Both movies owe a debt to Sidney Lumet, master of Big Apple crime and punishment stories. Lumet, who turns 82 this year but looks a good two decades younger, also has a movie out. In many ways it’s the most interesting of the lot, so naturally it’s garnered the least attention.

Find Me Guilty focuses on “Jackie” DiNorscio, a New Jersey Mafioso (played by a damn good Vin Diesel) who served as his own attorney in a complex RICO case that became the longest criminal trial in U.S. history. The action doesn’t stray far from the courtroom; much of the dialogue is taken directly from trial transcripts. Lumet still finds room to explore Jackie’s belief in an outmoded system of honor that even his fellow defendants don’t take seriously.

Linus Roache scores as the hard-charging Irish Catholic D.A. prosecuting the case. Which brings me to my problem with New York crime thrillers: I always identify with the wrong guys. Cops, federal agents, attorneys. The white dress shirt brigade. Not because I’m a law and order type, but because these are people I understand. Growing up, my neighborhood was full of men who worked for the government in one capacity or another. The director John Boorman said of Goodfellas that it’s not about gangster characters but what it’s like to be a gangster. True. But it’s still easier for me to picture myself as the FBI agent who puts Henry Hill into witness protection at the end of the movie.

In another life, I could have been that guy. Well, not exactly. I’m lacking in what you might call physical courage, so law enforcement would be out. But I do have a low-key flamboyance, a self-righteous streak, and a stubborn belief that I’m smarter than everyone else. Hello, District Attorney’s office.

Watching Roache in the movie, an entire alternate life opened up before me. I burst out of Fordham with my law degree and quickly earn a reputation as a comer, largely because I have no inner life. I start cultivating relationships with an eye toward moving into federal law or politics. I marry a girl from the old neighborhood who ends up looking at houses out on the Island by herself every weekend because I’m just too busy.

Eventually my ambition gets the better of me. I miscalculate, step on toes, make enemies in high places. I get exiled to some backwater, handling cases John Jay students could knock off as homework. I engage in a seamy office romance that tarnishes what’s left of my reputation. To compensate I become a permissive parent and my daughters lose all respect for me.

A partner at a white-shoe law firm with a grudge against my boss hires me, and I while away the years doing corporate hackwork. I write a novel that’s equal parts self-aggrandizement and sexual fantasy, but it contains enough realistic detail to be published as a paperback original. I start hanging out in writers’ bars, where I am tolerated as long as I pick up the tab. I drink myself to death at age 57. At my funeral, people talk about all the potential I had.

In some parallel universe, that version of me exists. The poor bastard.

Miscellaneous: Link

Slate’s Human Guinea Pig is a paparazzo for a day. I don’t think pictures of Red Buttons are going to cut it.