Find Me Guilty

Director: Sidney Lumet

Although as The Village Voice’s Ben Kenigsberg pointed out, director Sidney Lumet has specialized in creating cinematic classics and “courtroom dramas for nearly fifty years,” including legendary works such as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict and Network, one must admit the bar is lowered quite a great deal when the main character of his latest, Find Me Guilty, tells a jury with a straight face that he’s “not a gangster, but a gagster.” Still, somehow between the muted color scheme and high definition cinematography by Rob Fortunato and the excellent performance by Vin Diesel who, once and for all makes critics and movie snobs regret every crack they’ve made regarding his acting ability, the film became not only compelling but one I had to watch in one sitting. Based on the longest Mafia trial in the history of the United States—a trial which ran for a twenty-one month period between 1987 and 1988—Lumet and co-writers Robert J. McCrea and T.J. Mancini (who obtained official transcripts from the trial and used it for the dialogue, according to IMDB) tell the story of Jackie DiNorscio (Diesel). When the film opens, we watch in shock as DiNorscio first survives a nearly fatal shooting from his own cousin and consequently ends up in jail, only to later serve as his own attorney as one of the roughly twenty defendants—all members of the New Jersey Lucchese crime family-- against seventy-six criminal conspiracy accounts when his cousin becomes a star witness against the family. Although it was Lumet whose compelling docudrama was nominated for a Golden Berlin Bear, the main revelation of the piece is the acting by Diesel who one forgets is even in the film (thanks partly due to the over two hours of makeup he sat through daily), thoroughly convincing and disappearing into a role that, although some of the dialogue does aim in that direction, never borders on over-the-top. Despite a sixth grade education, Jackie remains the most fascinating individual in the courtroom, managing to alternately alienate and entertain the jury from pretentious legalese and take on each and every witness one by one, finding the cracks in their stories and weaknesses of their characters. Fine support is offered by the ensemble cast including Alex Rocco (as Nick Calabrese), the prosecutor that the film makes out to be the villain (Sean Kierney, played by Linus Roache), an excellent turn as the judge of the circus like proceedings by Ron Silver, and the man who nearly steals the film away every time he’s onscreen, Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) as the polished defense attorney Ben Klandis who offers Jackie advice along the way. Produced by The Yari Film Group, the film works best for audiences (such as myself) who aren’t very familiar with the legendary R.I.C.O. (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization) trial and also for those of us wowed by the “razzle dazzle” (to quote Chicago, which is a film I’m sure that DiNorscio who passed away during Lumet’s production would have enjoyed) of semantics and communication and the way that it can be used to sway twelve increasingly tired men and women throughout the long proceedings. While as numerous critics pointed out, it’s a shame that basically we’re celebrating a guilty man and organization, it’s still a tremendous feat to admire as we see a “gagster” who is facing an incredibly long prison sentence whether or not he wins or loses, take on the court made up of academically experienced and brilliant legal minds. It's well worth the rental.