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FIND ME GUILTY(director/writer: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: T.J. Mancini/Robert J. McCrea; cinematographer: Ron Fortunato; editor: Tom Swartwout; music: Jonathan Tunick; cast: Vin Diesel (Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio), Peter Dinklage (Ben Klandis), Linus Roache (Sean Kierney), Ron Silver (Judge Finestein), Alex Rocco (Nick Calabrese), Annabella Sciorra (Bella DiNorscio), Raúl Esparza (Tony Compagna), Josh Pais (Bellman), Domenick Lombardozzi (Jerry McQueen); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Bob Yari/Robert Greenhut/T.J. Mancini/Bob DeBrino; A Yari Film Group release; 2006)
“Vin Diesel gives a perfect performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 81-year-old Sidney Lumet (“Serpico”/”Network”/”Dog Day Afternoon”) started his illustrious career as a director with the acclaimed 12 Angry Men (1957) and much later had another serious hit courtroom drama in The Verdict (1982) and now, after seven years of inactivity, tops things off with this farce on bad courtroom behavior. It’s based on a true story and most of the dialogue by screenwriters Lumet, T.J. Mancini and Robert J. McCrea is taken from actual courtroom testimony in a 1987-88 NYC conspiracy mobster trial involving twenty members of the notorious New Jersey’s Lucchese family that went on for over 600 days–making it the longest criminal trial in American history and also went down as the most bizarrely humorous one ever because of the outrageous antics in the courtroom by Lucchese soldier Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) acting as his own lawyer.

Vin Diesel gives a perfect performance to seal the deal for this more outlandish that My Cousin Vinny! courtroom comedy. Who would have ‘thunk’ that Diesel could give a performance that matches up with Henry Fonda and Paul Newman and that he can be their natural successor in Lumet courtroom films (Not me! After seeing him play only cartoon characters; it was fun to see him play a real character for a change and really dig into the part).

It opens with Jackie getting plugged four times in his bedroom by his junkie cousin Tony Compagna (Raúl Esparza), who is too stoned and scared to make any of his shots count for good. While being shot Jackie lovingly reminds him that “You’re my cousin! I love you!” and after Tony flees he will not press charges even though he was seriously wounded. Jackie’s credo is loyalty and not being a rat, no matter what.

This leads to Jackie’s imprisonment for thirty years on narcotic distribution charges in an undercover sting and Tony, fearing retribution, has turned stoolie for the FBI and gives state’s evidence that leads to the charges of conspiracy, under the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), of twenty Lucchese soldiers including Jackie and Lucchese’s kingpin Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). All the accused go with their own top-notch defense lawyers, with the brilliant and always composed dwarf, Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage), acting as the leader of the legal team. Only the wacko wisecracking wise guy Jackie gives his fleabag lawyer the boot and represents himself despite having only a sixth-grade education. He explains to Judge Finestein (Ron Silver) that he got his law experience because he spent half his life in jail.

The smug youngish career-obsessed prosecutor Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) sees this as the opportunity he has always been waiting for and diligently puts together an involved case using stacks of evidence, informers and calling former Lucchese underling Tony Compagna as his key witness. But Jackie wins the jury over by straying from his line of questioning to tell dirty jokes, charm them with personal stories, provoke the witnesses, puncture holes in the prosecution’s ethnic profiling, offer compassion for Tony on the witness stand as a sick member of his family and make a point of speaking from his heart rather than like a lawyer. The convicted gangster, despite all the evidence against him, is given sympathetic treatment by the filmmaker. Lumet also is making the point about the cracks in our judicial system, where juries seem to be swayed by their emotions more than by the evidence. In modern times we have witnessed that is just the case, a good example would be the high-profile O.J. Simpson trial.

The film’s mantra becomes “a laughing jury is not a hanging jury.”

The lovely Annabella Sciorra has a small but engaging scene as Jackie’s ex-wife where she visits him in jail to console him on the death of his mother. But she soon angers, remembering why she left him, that he went after so many other women even though she gave him everything he wanted in sex and they get into a heated argument. But it ends with a tender caress and with her in his arms. Soon after the jury verdict comes in, and the shocking verdict should come as no surprise to the entertained viewer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”