Find Me Guilty

Something very strange happens in Find Me Guilty - Vin Diesel acts. With his action star status stalling due to dull films (his last two were The Pacifier and The Chronicles of Riddick), he did the right thing by going to director Sidney Lumet. Lumet (Gloria, Critical Care) is legendary for giving great direction for actors. He has directed nearly twenty actors to Oscar nominations including Paul Newman, Richard Burton, Jane Fonda, Ned Beatty, Al Pacino, Katharine Hepburn, Albert Finney, and Faye Dunaway. Diesel does not get anywhere close to reaching this level of craft, but he does prove that he is more than a hulking body with a gravel voice.

If anything, Diesel is not quite right for the role. He does not have enough charisma as Jackie DiNorscio, a man who is equally charming and annoying. Diesel does okay, but looks too much like a bodybuilder instead of an aging, overweight gangster, and even with a decent looking rug, still looks like Vin Diesel. He is not able to convince audiences that he is a character in the movie. But within the confines of Lumet's care, he is okay. Lumet loves working with stories concerning gangsters and courtrooms, and Find Me Guilty lets him combine both. Find Me Guilty, written by Lumet, T.J. Mancini, and Robert J. McCrea is fascinating in that most of the dialogue comes from actual courtroom testimony from the Lucchese trial, which took place from 1987-1988. It has the distinction (or dubious honor) of being the longest criminal trial in United States history. The government brought 76 counts against twenty members of the Lucchese family, a crime family operating out of New Jersey.

DiNorscio was already in jail for other charges. The government tried to get him to testify against the Luccheses, but DiNorscio refused. Instead, he decided to represent himself. It is this decision that helps to turn the trial into a circus. At heart, DiNorscio is a joker. He likes to make people laugh, and his comedic tendencies often come out in his cross-examinations. This may be funny for the people around him, but it causes much grief to the judge (Ron Silver, Ali, Festival in Cannes) and Sean Kierney (Linus Roache, Batman Begins, The Forgotten), the prosecutor. Nobody knows what to make of DiNorscio, and nobody knows what kind of effect he is having. He seems to garner the sympathy of the jury, but at the same time, he is not a trained lawyer and often comes off as a jackass.

One presumes that Lumet chose the film because it was such a bizarre slice of reality, and because of the DiNorscio character. Although he cracks jokes and looks carefree, he is extremely conflicted with a huge sense of alienation. The beginning of Find Me Guilty has a cousin shooting him multiple times. In jail, he is away from his family. Worse, Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco, The Country Bears, The Wedding Planner), the head of the Lucchese family and a longtime mentor, refuses to speak to DiNorscio. DiNorscio is completely cut off from everything he held dear. He puts up a facade, which drops only a few times when he is alone in jail. It shows that DiNorscio is more complex than he appears, but it would have been better if DiNorscio was not played by Diesel.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 5 minutes, Rated R for strong language and some violence.

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