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There's a serious losing streak as far as "true stories" in cinema are going. It's an open invitation to drizzle overdone sentimentality and turn crass tear-jerking into box office gold (see Glory Road or North Country?). That being said, that kind of stuff is spun gold in the face of the haphazard bile that is being thrown at the audience in Sidney Lumet's latest film, Find Me Guilty.
The film opens with Tony Campagna (Raul Esparza) making a panicked phone call to an unnamed person. He immediately goes from there to the home of his cousin, "Fat Jack" DiNorscio, a lone shark and cocaine dealer, and shoots him five times. For reasons unknown, DiNorscio survives, but refuses to rat on Tony. To him, ratting on family and friends is worse than death, and he tells his daughter that as she sits next to his hospital bed. Soon enough, Jack is in jail and part of a massive trial with most of the New Jersey crime family. In court, Jack befriends a lawyer (Peter Dinklage) but refuses his council, deciding to represent himself instead, against the wishes of mob boss Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). DiNorscio makes terrible jokes, but like all naïve if not honest men, he's endearing in a certain way, especially to Judge Finestein (Ron Silver). His charming and quirky attitude in court is hard to stand but seems to work on the jury, as they go in the room to deliberate on what would become the longest court case in U.S. history.
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Lumet has taken a very bare-bones approach with the plot of Night Falls on Manhattan. One minute Andy Garcia's Sean Casey is an assistant DA trainee, the next minute he is the District Attorney of New York. Likewise, the first twenty minutes of the film set up a courtroom drama which Lumet flies through in a series of quick scenes. Unconventional editing techniques, including periodic jump cuts and abrupt truncations of scenes that barely seem to have begun, help push the narrative forward, all of which serves to confuse the audience as to the film's true focus.
Continue reading: Night Falls On Manhattan Review