Here’s a lead in to a funny quip: After seeing this movie, I can guarantee every person who’s ever been in the audience of a Vin Diesel film has gone along with the crowd in one or two ways- love him or hate him. If you love him it’s because he’s a D&D playing nerd who’s gotten buff and crazy, accused of being homosexual (last time I checked he was dating a model) and all sorts of rumors just to make him even more special than he is.
For all the wrong reasons. If you hate him, its probably because of The Fast and the Furious, The Chronicles of Riddick, or the admittedly God-Awful The Pacifier. Let’s look at some facts here:
“Time is fleeting…”
Vin Diesel got his start doing drama, and slowly, very slowly moved into action. His first major role was a minor role in a huge picture: Saving Private Ryan. Every actor in that movie deserves credit for making one of the best Spieldberg flicks imaginable, and also one of the best WWII films ever- Diesel included. He knows his roles are a joke most of the time- hell he co-wrote the Riddick character to such a degree that most of the story was adapted by him, and backwritten, so he could craft one of the best games of the Xbox era- The Chronicles of Riddick- Escape From Butcher Bay. He creates characters whenever he’s chosen for a movie and makes them his own.
Even when he plays an insufferable bastard there’s some sort of exciting “on the edge of morality” play the audience can get just from his look- is he a big, black/Italian criminal, or is he just your crazy football playing cousin with a heart of gold? The man has utter control over his two very stereotypical sides, and in this film directed by the GREAT Sidney Lumet (who you might know for directing the best courtroom drama that doesn’t take place in a courtroom- 12 Angry Men starring the great Henry Fonda, and the best informant movie when the informant is the only non-crooked cop in the world, Serpico starring the GREAT Al Pacino) he completely destorys the line and for once thanks to a helping hand from 30 lbs of icecream and baggy clothes, gets to drop his “I’m so tough I’ll kill you with a tea-cup” routine in favor for a character who’s only true arsenal is just that: Character.
Find Me Guilty is the absolutely true-life story of Jack DiNorscio, a somewhat black-sheep thug of one of the Five Mafia Families during the U.S. v. Accetturo case. Over twenty men were being charged with organized crimes that could result in life in prison. Jackie Dee, as his “friends” called him, was a very simple man with a big, though often polluted, heart, who decided Loyalty till Underverse Come (sorry, wrong movie) to his “family.” Angry with his lawyer, he decided to save himself sixty grand and defend himself as an attorney. Using wry and sometimes offensive humor, he defends himself and the other “gangstas” on occassion for the extreme length of over two years.
“Send me to jail. I’m not guilty, but I’m used to it.”
Now I’m going to be honest here- this movie doesn’t break any boundaries and still won’t net Diesel an Oscar, but if it took Bill Murray thirty years of SNL and Meatballs-esque humour to net his first Oscar nod, then Diesel is certainly moving in the right direction at a far quicker pace. The acting portrayed is full of charm and wit, with emotive gestures and subtle stares that give you a chance to think about everyone else in the courtroom and then return to someone you wouldn’t expect to be so pensive- both the character and the actor are expected to be dim-wits, and I think Lumet was playing to that strength. From the first most quotable line from the film, Diesel proves he’s got enough to contend with the very long-winded and dialouge laden courtroom drama.
“I’m not a gangsta- I’m a gangsta.“
One of the main reasons Lumet stuck with the original courtroom transcript for what is probably a good 60% of the screenplay, is to keep the authenticity of the actual events. I found this as a double-edged sword of sorts, cutting off some creativity, but bringing in a lot of light on what it could really look like, and in the end giving Jackie’s jokes and cross-exams more credibility. The quote from the movie above described how the government had the right to persecute the individuals for their crimes- they had no delusions about who they were, but how society had quite possibly crafted Mafioso into non-stop crooks with an addiction for crime.
The movie talks in one scene very well delivered by Diesel about lifestyles and how they’re different based on perception. This very fresh dialouge lends the audience something to chew on and definitely makes them feel guilty-but-not-dirty for rooting for the mafia all at once. Who’s to say who’s bad when at the end of the day we all have mouths to feed and we’re not as priveledged as we think we are? It’s on every citizen’s mind when the country we live in is accused of warmongering, so why then, wouldn’t it be on the Mafia’s mind? Its questions posed like this as the film sifts through its various witnesses and testimonies- all authentic to the actual trial, that Lumet once again delivers something cinema doesn’t get quite often: a movie that isn’t just entertaining, or just intelligent, much makes you think about intelligent thoughts from an entertaining perspective- that being a large raspy Italian ripping one-liners into a courtroom.
The supporting cast does their job very well- from the other humble mafia guys, to the extremely arrogant mafia guys. One of my favorite cast members had to be Peter Dinklage- a guy who’s probably well known more for his shortcomings than his acting ability. He kept his role so serious and so natural that I doubt anyone would have found his part as a supporting actor bizzare- his delivery of the closing speech was somewhat preachy, but exactly the kind of thing you’d hear from a lawyer who holds the lives of many men in his hands. He spoke very proffesionally, though at times almost too much in the styles of Atticus Finch for his own good, but I think in that way it paid off to give the character of Jackie a good foil for the well-educated vs. the Ignorant lawyer– a very important role lest the audience forget what a REAL lawyer should be like.
Ron Silver as Judge Finestein played a very strong willed, yet empathatic character who was only on the side of the Law. Nothing about this courtroom felt truly crooked, and his presence helped, so the bias of the movie was never truly determined, making this part probably one of the most integral to the story. Watch for it- it’ll keep you guessing.
“If it talks like an asshole, and looks like an asshole, then chances are it *is* an asshole. ”
If it’s a good movie, its a good movie. If Vin Diesel is in it and its a good movie, it’s still a good movie. Lumet’s direction was solid- perfectly paced and never dull, with some odd-angle moments thrown in their just to ground the audience back into the real world so they didn’t always feel trapped in the courtroom themselves. This was one of the few Courtroom films where it didn’t feel like the audience was being made to look from the Jury’s point of view, but rather from the evolving character who had to take it all in. The audience by the end knows that the mafia members have no real respect for Jackie outside of him saving their butts, and that the people in prison see him as a hero though no one outside of the cells will give him any true honor.
The point to all of it then is just to feel what Jackie felt- two years of a very tense mind game, a chance to finally shine for intelligence and integrety when his whole life consisted of a job based around stupidity and crime, screwing over everyone in the process thanks to his bad habits and at times ill-manners. The reforming, it seems, happens before he even spends time in his 30 year sentence (which in real life was reduced to 17 and a half without him ever ratting anyone out). Lumet handles one of the most controversial characters in recent American history with grace and style, but a brilliant up-frontness that delivers a thought provoking and heartfelt film.
So let me go back to my “quip” lead in from the begining of this review:
If you all have a problem with me liking Vin Diesel, and loving this movie, I guess you’ll just have to slap the cuffs on me and Find Me Guilty.
Vin Diesel, and this film to a high degree, STRIKE A POSE!!! Go rent it!
*** out of ****