Find Me Guilty
July 18, 2006
There is always a certain amount of anticipation when Sidney Lumet makes another New York City based movie about crime and corruption. Some of his best films – Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Prince of the City (1981) and the underrated Q & A (1990) – deal with the problematic New York legal system and zeroes in with unerring clarity on how the justice system works and doesn’t work.
His latest, Find Me Guilty (2006), is based on the true story of Jack DiNorscio (Diesel), a mobster who defended himself in court for what would be the longest mafia trial in United States history. What transpired in the court room was often so bizarre that no one would’ve believed it if it hadn’t been transcribed by court stenographers.
After Jackie is shot four times by his junkie cousin, he finds himself under scrutiny by the police. Before he knows it, Jackie is facing a 30-year stint for a narcotics bust. Being the loyal guy that he is, Jackie refuses to cut a deal and rat on his friends. He even decides to defend himself. The gangster (or, as he puts it, “gagster”) ends up becoming part defense lawyer part stand-up comedian as he makes light of his criminal activities and makes fun of the prosecution’s witnesses. However, as the court case drags on, Jackie finds that his tactics aren’t working so well and the other defendants – especially mob boss Nick Calabrese (Rocco) – begin to resent him.
Lumet does a good job of showing the mounting frustration on both sides: the prosecution can’t believe that Jackie’s charm is working on the jury and he is angry at how they are taking away his cushy perks, like the recliner that he had in his cell for his back.
Working with a consummate professional and cinematic legend like Lumet clearly forced Vin Diesel to step up his game and not phone this one in. The actor showed such early promise with Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Pitch Black (2000) but then slid into forgettable action films like The Fast and the Furious (2001) and xXx (2002). To his credit, Diesel holds his own with the likes of Ron Silver and Alex Rocco, playing a very credible wiseguy. He’s got the swagger and bravado of a mobster down cold. Diesel is particularly excellent early on when he hesitantly informs the judge (Silver) that he’ll be defending himself.
The action star ends up delivering a speech to the jury that is, at times, earnest, funny and righteous. It’s the most words Diesel’s had to string together in a long time and he pulls it off, charming us and the jury. He also shows excellent dramatic chops, like in the scene where his ex-wife (Sciorra) visits him in jail and unloads all of her frustrations that she has about him, primarily his infidelity. Instead of exploding in anger as you would expect, Diesel just takes it.
The always reliable Peter Dinklage is excellent as a slick defense lawyer and Jackie’s only confidante, giving him the occasional sage advice. Lumet’s film ends up playing out like some kind of farce but the grabber is that most of what is said in the court room is actual dialogue spoken during the case. He also keeps things light and breezy with snappy jazz numbers on the soundtrack. It has been awhile since we’ve had a good ol’ fashioned courtroom drama except that Find Me Guilty is more of a courtroom dramedy. Diesel shows a surprisingly amount of range in this role and over the course of the movie demonstrates an ability to display a wide range of emotions making this movie worth watching.
“A Conversation with Sidney Lumet” features a collection of soundbites with the director where he talks briefly about his impression of the real Jackie, praises Diesel’s performance and talks about the accuracy of the courtroom scenes.
Also included is a trailer and three T.V. spots.