Time is Fleeting

I’m working up to BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD, Sidney Lumet’s final film. But I hadn’t seen his penultimate one, FIND ME GUILTY, either, and had always been curious.

It should come with a health warning, though — the first face we see is the Max-Schreck’s-lovechild visage of Rudy Giuliani, via a news broadcast. This works better now than it must’ve in 2006 — the movie is complex, but the surface narrative invites you to root for an indicted gangster over the public prosecutors.

Linus Roache plays the Giuliani-substitute with plenty of wimpy venom — he’s basically RIGHT, and he gets a speech proving it — but we find ourselves seduced by the underdog-gangster, already serving a long sentence, now up on a RICO rap.

To demonstrate how the wrong guy can win over a jury, or a movie audience, Lumet needs a star — along comes Vin Diesel, whose career was looking a little rocky back then — it’s still not exactly solid unless he’s behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle — and he brings the goods. Excellent mookwork here.

Ron Silver as the judge in the case, marvelous. Peter Dinklage as a defense lawyer (not Vin’s — he’s defending himself). Lumet was asked why he’d “cast a dwarf” in this key role, whereupon he should’ve just said that Dinklage is a terrific actor, but instead he said that the film was nearly all set in a courtroom and he needed some visual distraction to keep the audience from getting bored. Tsk.

To prove that the long-suffering Dinklage’s casting is a cheap joke, they have a special platform for him to address the jury from. It’s a fancy, antique platform — presumably the court has had a long run of little lawyers who have required it.

BUT — representation is good. Dinklage has taken a lot of roles that are problematic (THREE BILLBOARDS is one of the worst, actually). Here, at least he has a role in which his size is never discussed, it’s not a relevant part of his character. And he has a huge role, and he’s excellent, holding his own with the heavyweights.

Overall I love this, and I guess it signalled the start of Lumet’s late-period blooming. His nineties films had been a little flakey — my theory has always been that, though Lumet believed he was an all-rounder with no conscious artistic personality, he was actually born to specialise in takes of crime and the law with a preferably New York setting (but with a surprising adaptability to British subjects — THE OFFENSE, THE DEADLY GAME and especially THE HILL). But recently he had made films that were perfectly situated in that bailiwick — the ludicrously cast FAMILY BUSINESS and NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN — the mediocre GLORIA and A STRANGER AMONG US — which did him no credit.

So this terrific movie — a string of marvelous scenes, a tight narrative, a fascinating subject and character — and a wickedly satiric callback to TWELVE ANGRY MEN that does nothing to hurt one’s affection for that debut picture — is the first part of a terrific sign-off. But if Lumet had lived longer, I can’t help but think, we could have had a bunch more movies as strong.

“Time is fleeting,” remarks Diesel a couple of times.

“What does that mean?” asks an irate cop the second time.

“It means like it’s fleeing, but they put a T in it because it’s the past tense.”

5 Responses to “Time is Fleeting”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “Find Me Guilty” is hilarious. Lumet found a story that provided him with opportunity to send-up the courtroom dramas that made his name. Why no one has other than Lumet has mined Vine Diesel’s resources as a serious actor (rather than an “action movie” prop) amazes me. As for Dinklage he’s only been made to look ridiculous in the Chris Rock version of “Death at a Funeral.”

    “Night Falls on Manhattan” is the ULTIMATE Lumet title. His grasp of urban crime drama is in many ways sharper than Marty’s — who of course as “other issues” as “I Hear You Paint Houses” makes clear. “Dog Day Afternoon” s of course sensational. However it failed to full examine the REAL Story. I knew “The Original Cast” as “Littlejohn” was a member of the Gay Activist Alliance. He was there as a Mafia Mole as he worked for a character Mike Umbers who was trying to restart the Gambinos at place called “Christopher’s End” (it was at the end of Christopher Street near the piers). GAA was cleaning its clock on weekends as out Firehouse dances were dirt cheap and jam-packed. We had no need of a Mafia clip joint. Here’s the skinny The robbery wasn’t to get “Liz Eden” a sex change but because Litteljohn wanted money for what he’d done for Umbers (hapless as it was) The bank he tried to rob wasn’t picked at random. It was the one Umbers used. As fine as the late, great and much-missed John Cazale was as “Sal” he was completely miscast. The real “Sal” was a gay teenager who was one of Littlejohn’s lovers. When the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave Lumet its “Career Achievement Award I told Lumet all about this and it blew his far from unsophisticated mind

  2. ehrenstein47 Says:

    And speking of sophistication, “Q & A” is DA BOMB with Nick Nolte as a detective whose amour is a transgender showgirl, played by a REAL transgender showgirl who called herself “International Khrysis”

    Why “Gloria” was remade for Sharon Stone with a script by notorious David Geffen boytoy Steve Antin mystifies me. The original is a Cassavetes masterpiece that cannot be topped.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    As for “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead” it’s as elegant and intense a last bow as could possibly be imagined, thtat one point (it’s best scene IMO) becomes a documentary about the late, great, doomed Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

  4. 1) Because he was also cast as a lawyer, this is an opportunity for a shout-out to the late and lamented David Rappaport.

    2) Yikes, David C, that independence option is still on the table, right?

  5. Poor Rappaport. Maybe he’d have been happier staying a schoolteacher. “There’s no feeling as good as looking a child in the eyes.”

    Amazing stuff on Dog Day Afternoon. A whole other movie could be made!

    Lumet apparently didn’t like the original Gloria so didn’t see it as blasphemous to remake it, and apparently he needed the money — alimony, I believe? Three ex-wives.

    Independence for Scotland is going to be a big talking point. I think we would win a referendum, the question is how to get one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: