Monday, December 04, 2006


Vin Diesel Find Me Guilty Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring Vin Diesel
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The Sopranos. Goodfellas. The Godfather. Casino. American cinema and television is rife with stories about the mafia. But most times these productions focus on what happens as the families war with one another or deal with the imprisonment of their closest members. Rarely do we get to see what happens in between these two; that is to say, the courtroom drama. This is probably due to the fact that courtroom films can be rather boring and confined. There are exceptions (My Cousin Vinnie being the penultimate one), but rarely can these stories be wildly entertaining. Their basis for success is in finding an actor who can carry the story. An actor with a serious set of chops who’s not afraid to bury themselves in a part. Someone like Al Pacino perhaps.

One thing that should draw your attention to FIND ME GUILTY is that it’s directed by none other than Sidney Lumet, someone who’s given us such gems as Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico (both of them being outstanding Pacino flicks). Although Lumet was unable to retain Pacino for Find Me Guilty, he did find someone most might find rather unconventional: Vin Diesel. Vin has, in the recent past, been Mr. Action. His career is full of roles such as xXx and The Fast and The Furious, and the cultishly popular sci-fi movie, Pitch Black. Before these action-o-rama movies, though, Mr. Diesel was trying to build himself into a serious actor. Some viewers might remember his role as Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. His gruff but caring character in that movie was cut short thanks to his sympathy for a French family and their daughter. Remember that? If you do, you might think that Vin Diesel probably has more beneath that bulky exterior than just a tough guy wielding fast cars or Riddick-style speed. And director Sidney Lumet saw that potential.

Vin Diesel has cemented his role as a quality actor with Find Me Guilty. His portrayal of Jackie DiNorscio, a "family" fall-guy, is vivid, funny, and heartbreaking. Based on the true story of the longest and most costliest mob trial ever (lasting nearly two years and with more than 20 attorneys), the courtroom scripts were incorporated into the film with razor sharp precision. The big plug for the film is that it shows Jackie’s refusal to have an attorney defend him, so he defends himself (note: Jackie has a sixth grade education). Disrupting normal courtroom procedures, Jackie often has the chambers and the jury laughing hysterically at his anti-attorney antics. Judge Finestein (Ron Silver, THE WEST WING TV series) has to constantly reign in Jackie for fear of having the proceedings fall into disarray. Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense continually wonder if he’s helping one side versus hurting it; they just can’t tell.

That we care about someone we probably shouldn’t be (these families deal in hardcore drugs, the sex trade, and extortion) is a credit to screenwriters Lumet and
T.J. Mancini. Similar in scope to Thank You For Smoking (i.e., cheering on the "bad guy"), this movie’s message is also intriguing in a very human way. We shouldn’t be hoping for a not guilty verdict, but there we are, doing exactly that. This is, as previously mentioned, in no small part thanks to Vin Diesel’s awesome performance.

A noteworthy leap forward for Mr. Diesel’s career, his morally perplexing character portrayal will have audiences laughing, thinking and, in the end, grudgingly cheering.

Click here for the Find Me Guilty movie trailer!


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