Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Find Me Guilty

"Find Me Guilty" (Sidney Lumet, 2006) Throughout his career, Sidney Lumet has been attracted to stories where the everyday world spins out of control, and the common rules of conduct and society fly right out with the centrifugal force of it, when the machine of Society breaks and goes off the rails. The times he excels in his portrayal is when he sticks to the story, and makes less pictorial comment on it.

Which is why "Find Me Guilty" is one of his better films. The true story of the longest criminal case in U.S. judicial history--the RICO trial of 20 New York mobsters in the New Jersey wing of the Lucchese family as part of Rudy Giuliani's "clean sweep"--is a fascinating condensation of the trial and the circumstances surrounding it. Using the real transcripts of the trial, Lumet (who co-wrote the screenplay) is able to pick and choose dramatic highlights to make a consistently interesting film out of procedure (a Lumet specialty--he may have spent more days in court than most mobsters!), and point out a basic flaw in the prosecuter's case: you put the same strangers together in the same room for almost two years, and some bonding will happen.* In that way, it's not unlike making a film.

The other interesting aspect to it is a fine cast: the wonderful Peter Dinklage as a defense attorney who may be the smartest man in the room, Ron Silver as the judge, Linus Roache as the reptilian chief prosecuter--he's going to be fun to watch, and Annabella Sciorra as, briefly, the wife of the monkey-wrench that derails the trial.

It is frequently thrilling to watch a film and realize your preconceptions about a performer are wrong. In "Find Me Guilty," Vin Diesel puts on a show that's great fun to watch, throwing interesting spins on all sorts of situations. He plays Jackie DiNorscio who starts out the film shot by his cousin, then indicted and sentenced to a 30 year stretch in the pen...and then, put on trial as part of the Lucchese proceeding. With nothing to lose, and acting as his own defense attorney, DiNorscio emerges as the human face of the Mafia, and Diesel has a field day maximizing the comedy and squeezing the emotion out of every situation. It's a truly great performance.

...that no one saw. "Find Me Guilty" bombed at the box-office, no doubt due to the subject matter, and the public distaste out of glamorizing the Mob.

Or everybody was at home watching "The Sopranos."

* A lot of bonding will happen. One of the defendants later admitted that the jury had been rigged. Given all the time the trial was in session, how couldn't it be?

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