Jackie DiNorscio apparently was a junior mobster who dealt drugs and did bad things and when DA Giuliani went out to get the mob, Di Norscio refused to rat out his friends. He served a long sentence in jail and in an extreme case of honor among thieves, fired his attorney and colorfully defended himself and his mobster friends in one of the biggest RICO cases in the history of New York.
This movie has an excellent cast: Alex Rocco, Linus Roache, Annabella Sciorra, Raul Esparza, Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage. Every single one of them is amazing.
Like the Sidney Lumet movie that it is, it wears its Noo Yawk authenticity beautifully. The dialogue sparkles with curse words. One thing you can say for Sidney Lumet, his movies have spunk. He gets spirited, dramatic performances out of his actors. In a similar spirit to his great Dog Day Afternoon, this is sort of a celebration of the underdog. Of course, this guy is no good, but somehow he has heart. He is sincere. And he is not a rat. He has the pluck and the street smarts to defend himself in court. The movie claims that most of the dialogue was taken from court transcripts. I can believe it. This trial was a circus that took almost two years. Lumet treats it wisely like a circus because it is essentially a court room drama. In his capable hands it is lots of fun, because the actors are a joy to watch. It's as if they know "we're stuck in a court room for two hours, so let's give em their money's worth". I was mentioning Alex Rocco because he plays Nick Calabrese as the best embodiment of a prick ever committed to celluloid. It is a killer performance. Peter Dinklage as the leading lawyer for the mob is also fantastic (did they indeed have a vertically challenged lawyer, I wonder?) Linus Roache, who is an Irish actor, does a stupendous job as the overzealous DA, and where the hell is Ron Silver anymore? Why aren't he and his sexy raspy voice in more movies?
In the end the movie is truly very sad. It's the history of a schmo, of a fall guy. Lumet does this incredible balancing act between the comedy, the drama and the pathos and I was deeply touched at the end, but it left me with a deep discomfort. This guy went through all that trouble to save people not only who did not deserve it, but who would not have done the same for him. The happy ending of this movie is so very sad I can't shake it. Check it out.