|Find Me Guilty (2006)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco
Director: Sidney Lumet
Given that Vin Diesel’s previous foray into the world of comedy was the relatively-excruciating “The Pacifier,” it was easy to figure that any future endeavors in the genre would be equally lightweight. But, then, who would’ve expected he’d team up with legendary director Sidney Lumet (“Network,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico”) on a biopic of mobster Jackie Dee DiNorscio? And, to get down to brass tacks, even with the Lumet factor in place, the question remains: who would’ve expected any Vin Diesel film to turn out to be legitimately good, especially when there’s a fart joke within the first ten minutes?
I should’ve known better; Lumet is at his best when he’s in a courtroom. He directed “12 Angry Men,” for God’s sake, one of the definitive entries in the legal genre, not to mention “The Verdict,” which got him a Best Director nod from Academy Award voters.
Jackie DiNorscio was a member of the Lucchese crime family; he and 19 other members of the family were arrested, and DiNorscio was offered the opportunity to lessen his sentence by testifying against them. Being the good family man that he was, however, DiNorscio took a pass and went to court…but, having gotten totally fed up with his attorney, he decided to defend himself. Not being anything approaching a proper jailhouse lawyer, his tactics were decidedly non-traditional. “I’m not a gangster, ladies and gentlemen,” he explains to the jury in his opening statement, “I’m a gagster.” To prove this, he concludes his remarks with a dirty joke.
Though his action-flick background makes it less than surprising that he’d be able to glower well when things aren’t going his way, Diesel manages to perform the standup-styled courtroom delivery without taking it over the top. He’s surprisingly understated when he needs to be, switching from smart-ass to subtle when necessary; he’s no Perry Mason, but his everyman style is endearing.
Although there are so many other defendants that most of the mobsters blend into each other, Alex Rocco stands out as Nick Callabrese, which gives him a chance to play the kind of tough-guy role that he’s being doing to perfection since he played Moe Greene in “The Godfather.” Of those who get more than a line or two, the supporting cast provides consistent performances across the board. Peter Dinklage, as eloquent lead attorney Ben Klandis, has the best rapport with Diesel, and, while Annabella Sciorra – as DiNorscio’s ex-wife, Bella – only shows up for a single scene, she apparently paid attention to Edie Falco’s work while filming her stint on “The Sopranos,” nailing her role as a mob wife.
Though the studio would have you believe this is the second coming of “My Cousin Vinny,” it isn’t. Diesel gets laughs in his role, sure, but “Find Me Guilty” is, first and foremost, a courtroom drama. Mind you, it isn’t necessarily the fastest moving courtroom drama, but given that the case it covers entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest trial in American history, perhaps that was inevitable; it does, however, hold the viewer’s interest as it unfolds, and that’s thanks mostly to Diesel’s performance.
You know, no matter how many times I look over that last sentence, it still looks wrong to me…but it’s true. This is the kind of performance on which you could build a proper acting career; let’s hope Diesel chooses his next project wisely, so he can do just that.
In addition to the expected theatrical trailer and TV spots, there’s also something called “Conversations with Sidney Lumet.” Well, that’s what it’s called on the back of the box, at least; on the disc itself, it’s called “A Conversation with Sidney Lumet.” Either way, it’s pretty anticlimactic. Though split into nine different segments (with a “Play All” option), in total, it lasts less than five minutes. Disappointing.