Find Me Guilty
2006, R, 125 min. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, Richard Portnow.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 31, 2006
It’s nice to see director Sidney Lumet, now in his early 80s, not only delivering his best film in many years, but also making a film whose thematic consistency with his early work almost makes it seem as if a full half-century hadn’t intervened. From the early TV dramas that he directed to his film breakthrough in 1957 with 12 Angry Men, Lumet has demonstrated an ongoing interest in the workings of the American justice system, and more specifically, the New York City justice system. In movies from Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon to The Verdict and Running on Empty, Lumet’s subjects represent all sides of the law – its scoundrels and hardened criminals, prosecutors and defense attorneys, cops, juries, and judges – and their arena of work, the courtroom stage. Find Me Guilty returns to the scene of so many crimes, the courtroom, and the majority of the movie takes place within its walls. The story is based on a real New Jersey mob trial from the Eighties in which made man Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio (Diesel), who is already incarcerated for 30 years on a drug charge, is offered a deal from the prosecution to turn state’s evidence against 20 members of the Lucchese crime family. Disgusted with the prosecution’s lack of integrity, DiNorscio decides to defend himself in a group trial that winds up lasting 21 months – the longest on record at that point. During that time, he charmed, entertained, and brought some clarity to the glum courtroom, often repeating the expression, “I’m no gangster, I’m a gagster.” Diesel, with prosthetics and a waistline that makes him look more like a fat goombah than a buff action star, performs quite acceptably and gets to display more range than in his predictable action roles. Whenever he has the floor, Dinklage takes command of the courtroom as the lead defense attorney, seizing our attention whenever the movable stairs are moved toward the witness box before the dwarf actor begins his line of questioning. Silver and Sciorra also uphold Lumet’s reputation as an actor’s director. The structure of the story makes it hard to have any rooting interests for either side since the prosecutor is a tightly wound jerk and the defendants, although perhaps not guilty of the conspiracy they’re charged with, are nevertheless mob heavies, despite their convivial demeanor in the courtroom. And the jury is maybe taking a page from the O.J. Simpson/Robert Blake playbook in which likability outweighs culpability. Find Me Guilty, like the justice system it portrays, ultimately works a great deal better than you might expect.