Friday, October 18, 2019


By Dwight Casimere

 Eric Garner's widow-Esaw Garner Snipes

The Judge portrayed by Isabelle Kirshner-Criminal Defense Attorney

Unless you are a salamander living under a rock or a consistent viewer of Fox News, you must be aware of the Eric Garner story. To refresh your memory, Eric Garner was strangled to death on the afternoon of July 17, 2014 by NYPD officer Anthony Pantaleo and a gang of his fellow New York officers on a street corner in Staten Island. Garner was allegedly targeted by police for selling 'loosie's,' illegal single cigarettes, at most, a  ticketable offense. A Staten Island Grand Jury refused to indict Pantaleo and a later federal probe was inconclusive. The Garner family eventually received a $5.6 million dollar settlement from the City of New York.  Roee Messenger's film American Trial: The Eric Garner Story posits the question; "What if there had been a trial?"

The film immediately takes us away from the viral cell phone video of Garner's gruesome death and the street protests and rhetoric  right into the courtroom. So widespread were the protests that LeBron James and the LA Lakers even took to the practice court wearing warmup shirts emblazoned with the phrase "I Can't Breathe.' 

The film uses a mix of fact and fiction to create an imaginary trial for Pantaleo, something the legal experts call 'moot court.'  The particulars of the case are hashed out in gruesome detail with actual legal experts such as Alan Dershowitz and a parade of retired police officers including Det. Carlton Berkley of the 100 Black and Latino Police Officers Organization who gives a blood-curdling  frame-by-frame description of what transpired in the Garner viral video.

The film uses actual people instead of actors in the courtroom drama, including Garner's widow and James Knight, his close friend who was with him the day of the murder. The only actor in the film is Anthony Altieri, who portrays Pantaleo. His words are taken from public statements and an interview with his defense lawyer Stuart London.  

The trial dramatization features Garner's widow Esaw Garner Snipes, who after holding up a severely deformed arthritic hand to be sworn in, gives a testimony wracked with bitter tears. We learn that Erioc Garner was a family man. They were married 26 years and have 4 children. She has yet to recover emotionally  from her loss. Her pain is palpable, even in the fake courtroom setting. In fact, at the end of the film, we see her in a backroom having an emotional breakdown over the experience of reliving her husband's death through her testimony. Coincidentally. the filming occurred just on the heels of losing her daughter, Erica Garner, to cardiac arrest.  Expert witnesses also include Dr. Michael Baden, the former NYC Chief Medical Examiner, who  performed the second autopsy on Eric Garner in the civil case. 

Officer Pantaleo was finally fired by the City of New York in the summer of 2019 after an internal Police Commission investigation and stripped of his pension.   The grand jury transcripts have never been revealed and there are no future plans for an actual trial.

 Roee Messenger's American Trial: The Eric Garner Story envisions a justice that the Garner family, the nation, and, indeed, the world, will never see. The viral video of Garner's death is shown several times in the film. Its painful to watch, no matter how many times you see it. The fact that his case has never been brought to justice, as the film reminds us, causes it to become a gaping social wound that has yet to be healed. 

Friday, October 4, 2019



by Dwight Casimere

More than 300 scenes, 108 days of shooting, 117 locations, and a decade of planning culminated in the multiple Oscar-worthy masterpiece,  Martin Scorsese's  The Irishman, in theaters in limited release Nov.1st  then streaming on Netflix beginning Nov. 27. 

Produced by Scorsese with Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro and their TriBeCa productions, among others, this is a film that should not be missed. It is particularly so  in light of events that are now unfolding in our nation's capitol. The Irishman speaks to the moral dilemma of our time. Clocking in at just under three and a half hours, the film's content is so absorbing that the time is of no matter.  With a production budget of $159 million, it is one of the most expensive films of  Scorsese's career. Cost and running time notwithstanding, this is a film that commands your full attention throughout.

The Irishman is a 2019 American epic crime film produced and directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian.  Based on the 2004 memoir I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, it purports to trace the life of the man responsible for the murder and disappearance of Teamster Union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The film traces his simultaneous rise through the ranks of the union and the mob to become Hoffa's right hand man and confidant. As he is handed the coveted ring, marking him as the highest rank of "made" men ("there are only three of these," he is told by the Joe Pesci character, crime boss Russell Bufalino,  "you are the only Irishmen to get one of these." Hence, the film's title). But, with that honor, comes a heavy price.
"This movie is not so much about the actual events, " Scorsese told a news conference after the films World Premiere screening at the 57th New York Film Festival, "but about what happens to us emotionally within. Yes, we know its all going to happen, no matter what, as the Pesci character points out, but how it weighs on us, and the regret it fosters. This is paramount throughout the film."

Digital effects by Industrial Light and Magic and visual effects supervisor Robert Legato along with a posture coach allowed the characters to age and de-age as the film's narrative time-shifts.  "I was playing Jimmy Hoffa at the age of 39," Pacino told the critics assembled at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall for a  pre-festival screening.  "They're doing that on a computer. We went through all these tests and things (recreating a scene from Scorsese's earlier film Goodfellas) You're 39, some sort of memory of 39, and your body tries to acclimate to that." The result upon  viewing  the film is seamless. The special effects alone are worthy of an Oscar nod for their aesthetic achievement. 

The all-star cast is punctuated in a bravura performance by  Al Pacino as embattled union leader Jimmy Hoffa. I have memories of Hoffa's appearances at Union rallies in Chicago,  where attendance was mandatory for two of my relatives, who were both union members and organizers. His fiery rhetoric and bombastic delivery were his signature and Pacino captures it perfectly in this film. Hoffa pulled no punches in his speeches and his troops were merciless in enforcing his iron will, which was his eventual downfall. (One  particularly vivid memory is that of a union 'scab' being shot as he attempted to pull his Mack truck out of a neighboring driveway in the pre-dawn hours during a Teamsters' strike. My father immediately darkened the house so that no one could see that we had witnessed the travesty).

 "There was a lot of film and old TV footage of Hoffa that I could draw from," Pacino told the news gathering.  Scorsese chimed in, "You could also see Al walking around the set with an earpiece in his ear the whole time, listening to audio of Hoffa's speeches!" Joe Pesci as crime boss Russell Bufalino gives another tightly wound performance. The superb front-line cast is rounded out with Harvey Keitel as Angelo Bruno and a surprisingly scintillating performance by Ray Romano as the crime family's 'consiglieri'  Bill Bufalino. 

The film is pure genius and a virtual primer on what good filmmaking is all about. It should win many Oscars. 

The Irishman

Directed byMartin Scorsese
Produced by
Screenplay bySteven Zaillian
Based onI Heard You Paint Houses
by Charles Brandt
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited byThelma Schoonmaker
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • September 27, 2019(NYFF)
  • November 1, 2019(United States)
Running time
209 minutes[1]