Find Me Guilty (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Vin Diesel as a Joisey mobster? As improbable as it might sound, Diesel offers a credible turn as Giacomo 'Jackie D' DiNorscio, one of about 20 members of the Lucchese crime family to go on trial for violation of the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act. Despite being saddled with bad prosthetics and a ridiculous wig, Diesel displays more acting ability than in the testosterone-soaked genre where he has carved out a niche. Find Me Guilty requires him to do drama and comedy without the benefit of an action net, and his slip-ups are few and minor.

As director Sidney Lumet proved with The Verdict, he can be at home in the hallowed halls of justice, and Find Me Guilty is a courtroom procedural. There's some comedy mixed in - the real Jackie D's stint as his own lawyer often resembled a stand-up act - but this is basically what you would expect from a solidly made account of an infamous mob trial. Lumet and his co-screenwriters have culled large chunks of dialogue from the actual transcripts, disallowing the possibility of the film to venturing too far from the facts. But there's a crucial difference between Find Me Guilty and the traditional courtroom drama. Typically, this kind of story is about an guiltless man trying to prove his innocence. Here, it's about a guilty man trying to bamboozle a jury.

The trial takes place over a 21-month period between early 1987 and late 1988. Each mobster has his own lawyer except Jackie, who decided to defend himself - against the advice of the lead defense counsel, Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage) and the judge (Ron Silver). Jackie D's lack of respectability earns him a $10,000 fine and the contempt of mob boss Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco), but endears him to the jury. And, when circumstances demand it, he can turn serious. Jackie, who is serving a 30-year sentence for drug possession, refuses an offer from D.A. Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) to get out sooner in return for his testimony. For Jackie, nothing is worse than ratting on his family, and it's something he won't do, even when members of that "family" (like Nick) turn against him. (Jackie was released from prison on parole a few years ago, then died while this movie was in production.)

There are times when Find Me Guilty plays more like My Cousin Vinny than The Verdict. (Ironically, Diesel accepted the role after Joe Pesci turned it down) There's plenty of humor to be found here. Yet, at its heart, this is a drama, and the often light tone belies the dark currents churning beneath the straightforward plot. Find Me Guilty illustrates the collapse of the American judicial system, and those failings are fueled not by corruption or bribery, but by prosecutorial incompetence and defense guile. Compared to this, the O.J. Simpson trial, which would become compulsive viewing half a decade later, was a model of decorum.

The director has surrounded his big-name star with a stellar supporting cast. Dinklage, Silver, and Roache stand out, and each is given scenes in which they are allowed to display their acting chops. Craggy-faced Alex Rocco is perfect as the sour Nick Calabrese. It's not hard to understand why Rocco has been stereotyped into this kind of part. And Annabella Sciorra leaves an impression as Jackie's ex-wife, despite appearing in only one scene.

Lumet's approach to the subject is bare-bones. Roughly 75% of the scenes take place in the courtroom. Shots are composed in a straightforward manner and camera angles are basic. The film avoids over-editing and unnecessary close-ups. This is the best methodology the director could have employed, since it allows his talented cast and solid script to remain unencumbered by technical flourishes. Find Me Guilty is not the best work Lumet has done, but it's worthwhile viewing for anyone who likes gangsters, courtrooms, and what happens when the two are brought together.

Find Me Guilty (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 2006-03-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1