We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
A study of Oscar Goodman, a top US criminal lawyer whose clients include some of the most dangerous people in America. Documentary directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Who are the men who represent those seemingly unworthy of representation? Well, they are men like Oscar Goodman, a gifted lawyer turned mayor of Las Vegas. Made just prior to his election to high office, Mob Law: A Film Portrait Of Oscar Goodman was dismissed in some quarters as the world's longest campaign ad. But while the film certainly couldn't have hurt Goodman's election chances, Paul Wilmshurst's film is less a hagiography than an essay about a colourful man and his peculiar profession.
Narrated by Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia (star of the second series of US legal drama 'Murder One'), Mob Law catalogues Goodman's time spent defending the baddest of the bad, including mob figures such as Nick Civella, Nicky Scarfo, Vinny Ferrara and the notorious crime boss Meyer Lansky - a man who fled to Israel rather than pay income tax. Goodman also spoke up for Stardust Casino boss Frank "Lefty" Rosentahl and explosive short-arse gangster Anthony "Tony The Ant" Spilotro, respectively the inspiration for the characters played by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese's Casino.
With a client list like this, it comes as no surprise that Goodman has some great anecdotes to tell. Certainly he loves nothing better than talking about himself. Revelling in the attention - he takes great pleasure in pointing out that he played himself in Casino - Goodman's swollen ego might not be attractive, but it makes time spent in his company memorable. And while he appears to have done his fair share of disreputable acts, it's hard not to grant a degree of grudging respect to the self-proclaimed "happiest mayor in the world". Indeed, it's rather refreshing to meet someone who doesn't apologise for their endeavours and even revels in the shadier elements of his past - Goodman cheerfully describes himself as "a mob mouthpiece".
Ably directed by Paul Wilmshurst (who'd later make the excellent 'Brooklyn Bridge' episode of the BBC's 'Seven Wonders Of The Industrial World' series), Mob Law is, for the most part, a good but far from great documentary about an interesting but far from decent man. However, the piece is transformed in the final reel when Goodman chats with William L Cassidy, a retired undercover agent. What begins as a diverting trip down memory lane quickly transforms into a deep philosophical discussion about the nature of morality, the sort of conversation you'd expect to find in a Scorsese film. While for the most part Goodman comes on like a showboating celebrity, here he reveals himself to be a straight-talking man of considerable intellect who appreciates that the line between good and bad is frequently blurred. It's this understanding that presumably enabled him to make a living representing mobsters, and it's this scene that makes Mob Law one of the finest films about the legal profession.
Mob Law provides a compelling look at a complicated profession's top practitioner. And while Oscar Goodman is far from admirable, it's fascinating to spend 90 minutes in his company.
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