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Gangster or Gagster?
Release Date: March 17, 2006
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 124 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Director: Sidney Lumet
Executive Producer: Georges Vitetzakis and Oliver Hengst
Address Comments To:Mark Borde, Mike Doban and Susan Jackson
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Based on a true story, the movie opens with New Jersey mobster Jackie DiNorscio (played by Vin Diesel), a member of the Lucchese crime family, being shot by his best friend in the 1980s. Jackie survives, only to be busted for illegal drugs. Jackie gets a 30-year sentence because of his past convictions, but he is offered an opportunity to shorten his time by testifying against many of his closest friends, men he has known since childhood.
Loyal to a fault ("I love these guys," he keeps saying), Jackie refuses to testify and becomes part of the largest group of criminal defendants in U.S. history under conspiracy charges (the infamous Rico Law). Jackie is also disgusted by the legal system, especially the bad legal representation he got from his lawyer on the drug charge, so he decides to defend himself.
"I'm no gangster," Jackie insists to the court and the jury, "I'm a gagster." With his cocky attitude, outrageous, often offensive sense of humor, and his unconditional loyalty, Jackie takes over the spotlight in the trial, which lasts 21 months in 1986-87. Jackie antagonizes the top mobster in the trial and sometimes the judge, but he never fails to surprise them, or his other fellow defendants.
Vin Diesel, who's gravitated to action hero roles in recent years, is very good as Jackie, as is the rest of the cast, especially Ron Silver as the sympathetic but no-nonsense judge. The plot, story and characters are very entertaining and well-directed. In addition, however, to all the strong foul language, the movie seems to take Jackie's side. It wants viewers to root for this unlikely hero, even when he antagonizes the good judge. Jackie's love and loyalty to his friends may be commendable in many circumstances, but not when it comes to organized crime. Thus, while it is true that government conspiracy charges like those in this movie can be abused too often, some people in this world, like the gangsters here, deserve all the grief and misery that the legal system can hand them.
Love and loyalty are indeed among the highest of God's moral virtues, but they are not meant to excuse the kind of violent, despicable gangsterism that has plagued too many of our cities in the last 150 years. As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13:6, "Love does not delight in evil." The same could be said for the issue of loyalty and other important moral virtues, including our God-given ability to create art and entertainment.
Vin Diesel, who's gravitated to action hero roles, is very good as Jackie. So is the rest of the cast, especially Ron Silver as the sympathetic but no-nonsense judge. The story and characters are very entertaining and well-directed by veteran Sidney Lumet. The movie seems to take Jackie's side, however, and contains abundant foul language. Jackie's love and loyalty may be commendable in many circumstances, but not when it comes to protecting violent criminals.