Monday, August 20, 2007

Find Me Guilty

Sidney Lumet | 2006 | 125 min | US

Find Me Guilty is a very weird comedy-drama, written and directed by the relentlessly prolific Sidney Lumet. The film is based on the true story of mobster Giacomo “Jackie” DiNorscio, a man who had spent so much time in prison that he decided lawyers were no longer worth his dime. In spite of strong discouragement from just about everyone around him, DiNorscio defended himself in what turned out to be the longest mafia trial in U.S. history. The 20-defendant conspiracy trial, which lasted two years, and was arguably the country’s boldest and the dumbest attempt to bring down an entire crime family.

Much of the dialogue in Find Me Guilty was taken from actual trial transcripts. This may up the I can’t believe it really happened factor, but ultimately does the film a disservice. Lumet is a gifted screenwriter, and undoubtedly, his dialogue would have provided a wittier and more incisive critique of the justice system than what the jovial wiseguy and his paisans actually said. After all, Find Me Guilty is not a documentary. Taking liberties with the material would have added depth and might have made the quixotic DiNorscio seem less annoying and more sympathetic.

Vin Diesel (sporting a toupee, 30 extra pounds of Italian belly and a thick New Jersey accent) plays DiNorscio competently, but he’s still kind of hard to root for. DiNorscio is a self-professed bad guy who’s spent his life doing drugs, cheating on his wife and committing a variety of petty crimes that have landed him repeatedly in prison. His one redeeming quality is that he doesn’t rat on his friends, a fact that seems to form the crux of his bizarre legal argument – not that he or the other defendants aren’t criminals, but that they aren’t guilty of the conspiracy they’ve been charged with. That is to say, they’re just a bunch of guys who grew up together, and happen to break the law a lot. But not, y’know, as a gang.

The film is impeccably shot, with lots of great signature-Lumet camera angles, long shots full of great visual jokes, and terrific lighting. However, for all the style and courtroom hi-jinx, it’s difficult to feel uplifted by a film that essentially depicts the total failure of the American justice system at the hands of a man with a grade six education who claims to be a 'gagster, not a gangster'.

I mean, I guess that’s the quintessential little-guy-against-the-big-system formula, but the defendants in this case are unrepentant bad guys, and with the possible exception of DiNorscio, lack any charm whatsoever. It's hard to want someone to stay out of jail when they're totally unlikable and clearly guilty. Ultimately, as far as Sidney Lumet courtroom dramas go, it’s no 12 Angry Men.

No comments: