Director Sidney Lumet’s courtroom dramas (12 Angry Men, The Verdict) are always intense and thought-provoking. Based on a true story, Find Me Guilty offers an interesting commentary on our legal system from the point of view of a character who is both intimate with and ignorant of it.
Giacomo “Fat Jack” DiNorscio (Diesel) is a crook: drug-dealing, money laundering, pimping… you name it. Soon after he recovers from being shot by his cousin, Tony (Esparza), Jackie is convicted of a narcotic charge. He’s serving a 30-year sentence when prosecutor Sean Kierney (Roache) offers him a deal. You see, Tony squealed, and for the first time Kierney has a chance to bring the Lucchese crime family down on a RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) indictment. If Jackie agrees to cooperates with the government and testify, he could get out of jail without six or seven years. Jackie, loyal and stubborn, refuses to rat on his friends and family, and the case goes on to become the longest organized crime trial in history.
Fed up with his attorney, Jackie decides to defend himself in court, much against the objection of the Lucchese family and their lawyers, including Ben Klandis (Dinklage). Jackie faces scrutiny and ridicule from all sides, including the family he’s trying to protect. But he doesn’t give up. He tells the jury that he’s no gangster, but a “gagster,” and proceeds to charm the pants off of everyone, even Judge Finestein (Silver) with his genuine personality.
Action star and sex symbol Diesel (The Pacifier) does a surprising dramatic turn as Jackie D. With makeup and costumes, Diesel looks 20 years older (and rather ridiculous with thinning blond hair) and 30 pounds chunkier than his normal buff self. But his dramatic chops are even more impressive. His betrayal of the uneducated but street-smart “gagster” carries the film. Even though we know he is a crook and he’s protecting a true crime family, we admire his loyalty and resolve, and we actually root for him. Jackie D. has personality to spare, and the bigger-than-life Diesel pulls off a very respectable performance.
But Diesel has help. Dinklage (Fortunes) manages to steal the film from him. Dinklage is articulate, empathetic and authoritative as lead defense lawyer Ben Klandis. His command of the screen is impressive. Silver (Red Mercury) is also wonderful as the just and paternal Judge Finestein. Roache (Twelve and Holding) is intense and spot on as the uptight prosecutor who would stop at nothing to win.
Rocco (Crazylove) is effective as the cantankerous Uncle Nick Calabrese (the mob boss). His distrust and loathing toward Jackie drive a wedge between Jackie and the family. Sciorra (Twelve and Holding) has a brief but memorable scene with Diesel as Jackie’s estranged wife, Bella. Their scene together speaks volume about the man Jackie is and the change he’s undergoing.
Veteran director Lumet is the go-to guy when it comes to courtroom drama, and Find Me Guilty does not disappoint. Lumet’s vision gives us a strong but down-to-earth feel, to keep us in the personal drama and dynamics without sidetracking us with extraneous details. The pacing is just right.
The script by Lumet, Mancini and McCrea is well-paced and entertaining, exploring the complex relationships between Jackie and the various relationships in his life. Using real testimonies from the trial as dialogue, they give the story certain sense of authenticity. Most impressive is the characterization of Jackie. The theme of loyalty and integrity really drives home, and we end up rooting for the crooks instead of the “good guys.” The dialogue is often explosive and humorous, and the action to the point. The huge cast of characters can be confusing sometimes and the various subplots can be distracting.
While it’s not really a movie that teaches anything profound, the story and the characters are very entertaining. I thoroughly enjoy the film, and I won’t feel a bit guilty about that.
Stars: Vin Diesel, Ron Silver, Linus Roache, Peter Dinklage, Alex Rocco, Annabella Sciorra, Raul Esparza
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writers: Sidney Lumet, T.J. Mancini, Robert J. McCrea
MPAA Rating: R for language and violence
Running Time: 125 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.4 out of 10