So once again we have survived.

Find Me Guilty

tn_findmeguiltyRemember around the time you first heard about Vin Diesel, you would read all this shit about how he wasn’t just some dumb musclehead, he was a multi-talented enigma, he directed a short that caught Steve Spielberg’s eye, blah blah blah? But then he just did a bunch of action and action-like movies, many of them not very good, turned down the sequels, never got his HANNIBAL movie off the ground, then eventually had to stoop to the Hulk-Hogan-in-MR.-NANNY route to get a hit, and everybody wrote him off?

Well, I think he might get things rolling again, but we’ll see. And even if he doesn’t, it turns out he’s got one role under his belt that fits that “more than meets the eye” hype and shows that he’s got more range than just the differences between Riddick and Dominic Teretto (hint: Riddick wears goggles).

He has a bad back and has to sleep in a La-Z-Boy, that's why he's in that chair. Don't worry, it's not some lame movie poster humor.
He has a bad back and has to sleep in a La-Z-Boy, that’s why he’s in that chair. Don’t worry, it’s not some lame movie poster humor.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, FIND ME GUILTY is a true story about a New Jersey mobster who got pissed at his lawyer and decided to represent himself in a RICO Act case so huge it had something like 20 defendants and ended up being the longest criminal trial in U.S. history.

Diesel plays Jackie D’Norscio, who we first meet laying in bed getting shot by his own cousin. He refuses to cooperate with police because of a family values version of the “stop snitchin'” ethos. He says, “We don’t rat out those who love us” and insists his cousin is just a junkie who’ll see the error of his ways. This philosophy of love and forgiveness will drive him for the entire movie. Also it will screw him over since his fuckin cousin is the star witness in the case against him.

In this one Diesel has hair, with a receding hairline. The poster informs us that his nickname is “Fat Jackie,” but in the movie I wouldn’t exactly call him fat. Diesel hides his muscles under thick clothes, but it doesn’t really look like he did the RAGING BULL/donut-eating thing. He definitely looks different, though. With his distinct, gravelly voice I thought it might be hard to accept Diesel as this guy, but it wasn’t.

Jackie is tough but vulnerable. Always seeking acceptance whether it’s from “the fellas,” the screws at the prison, the lawyers or the jury. He never made it out of elementary school, so he doesn’t have Diesel’s usual thing of outsmarting everybody around him. He’s kind of whiny. He likes to tell jokes and laugh. He says things like “youse guys.”

The head defense lawyer is Peter Dinklage, who is wary of Jackie defending himself because it could screw over all of the defendants. But instead of trying to stop him (like the Don… er, I mean alleged Don… wants him to) he tries to help him. Dinklage is pretty much the co-lead, and of course he’s good in it. Nice to see him get an opportunity like that.

The judge is Ron Silver. That sounds like the ultimate nightmare for a defendant, but somehow Silver removed his usual layer of slime and plays this as a really likable character. He almost develops a friendship with Jackie over the course of the trial. There’s a touching scene where he has to inform Jackie about a death in the family and he really struggles to be gentle and supportive about it. I don’t think this guy’s a hanging judge. He’s a hanging out judge.

One of the big moments in the movie is when Jackie’s ex-wife (Annabella Sciorra) comes to visit him. She yells at him for treating her bad, cheating on her, thinking he can have whatever he wants no matter the consequences, and now for throwing his freedom away in the name of a stupid mafia code. Jackie doesn’t argue back that much because he probly knows she’s right. It’s one of the few times when he seems to feel bad about what he does.

They say that most of the testimony is taken directly from the transcripts, but of course I don’t know which parts. Does “most” mean it’s all real except sometimes the actors would improvise a little or the testimony would be simplified a little, or does it mean there is a 51% majority of it that is not made-up bullshit? I got no idea.

Jackie doesn’t come up with a brilliant legal strategy or anything. He mostly jokes around with corny humor. He keeps saying “I’m not a gangster, I’m a gag-ster.” You see, it’s all a big misunderstanding. Yes, he may have been arrested making a large drug transaction, but really it turns out his only crime is that he loves to make people laugh.

In court he tells dirty jokes. He keeps getting threatened with fines. One of his attempted Matlock moves is just to embarrass a police witness (Anthony Michael Hall) by proving that his statement that he saw a bunch of Italian men somewhere couldn’t be backed up because he couldn’t really know what nationality they were just by looking at them. Of course it puts the cop on the spot for what he said but it also doesn’t make his testimony any less reliable since it’s not really relevant if they’re Italian or not. So it’s kind of this game of spending months and months in a court room distracting people by talking about dumb meaningless bullshit. It’s like a presidential election.

In the end (SPOILER for movie and history) they’re all found not guilty. And the weird thing – or maybe the ingeniously subversive thing, I’m not sure – is that the movie plays it exactly like it’s ERIN BROCKOVICH or something, some David beats Goliath, stick-it-to-the-man crowdpleaser. You’re happy for his underdog victory over the uptight federal prosecutor (Linus Roache). But wait a minute – that asshole is right though! These guys are murderers, drug pushers and extortionists. It seems like the jury let them off because hey, this guy’s funny, I like this guy and because these guys have wives and kids, they can’t go to jail! And the movie, using standard movie devices, tricks us into feeling the same way.

Look at Dinklage’s character. It makes you like him. He’s this wise, eloquent legal mastermind. People tell him to stop Jackie from representing himself, but he has a hunch. He gives Jackie a chance and grows to believe in him. And at the end of the trial he thanks Jackie profusely, a huge compliment. This character is our buddy and our mentor.

But think about it – he’s a fucking scumbag! He knows these guys are guilty as sin and he gets them off with a bunch of bullshit. There’s no hint of “everyone deserves a fair trial” idealism. He’s just a mob lawyer, straight up. He’s Sean Penn in CARLITO’S WAY, but played as a hero.

So if you take the movie at face value it’s blatantly glorifying organized crime and saying that if somebody is charismatic it doesn’t matter if they’re a murderer. It has no obvious “this is fucked up” notes like, say, CHOPPER or BRONSON. So I really can’t tell if Lumet just thought it was a good enough story that he sided with Jackie, and that even bad guys can be sympathized with, or if he’s deliberately trying to fuck with the audience by manipulating us into feeling something that we shouldn’t.

But either way we’re all adults here, we can handle it. This is an entertaining movie that I recommend to all Dieselmaniacs and Dink Finks.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 at 11:50 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “Find Me Guilty”

  1. I totally forgot about that movie. It got less attention than movies, where actors break out of their typecasting usually get. I even think it premiered here in Germany at one Saturday night on Free TV.

  2. I suspect this was Diesel’s oscar bait role and movie

  3. Ah! I love this movie! I can’t say it’s gripping, but it’s consistently interesting. I’ve long suspected that Vin Diesel has more potential than he has shown in most of his movies, but this film is one of the few films that actually support that crazy idea.

    I think if HANNIBAL turns out to be another Vinflop, I may have to write off his performance in FIND ME GUILTY as a strange fluke in an otherwise unremarkable collection of films, though.

  4. Being a trial attorney myself, I can say that I agree with every single one of the issues of identification that exist in this movie. That being said, something about this film made it compulsively easy for me to set aside my personal knowledge and enjoy the hell out of this film. There were several laugh out loud moments for me in this movie and I thought Diesel did a bang up job. Between this film and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, I thought Lumet gave us a fine one/two punch of filmmaking from a different time and place as both films really do not feel like the majority of films being made now. They feel like they might have been made forty or more years ago.

    As a point of reference, I had a substantially more difficult time setting my predispositions aside for Law Abiding Citizen and really wished that film would have been a scathing exploration of the inherent fallacies of the system rather than turning into the rote action/thriller that it became. However, I know that is asking too much from mainstream Hollywood. Or it could be that all that goodwill I have extended toward Kurt Wimmer getting the shaft in Hollywood is unjustified.

  5. MDM, out of curiosity, what’s the most realistic courtroom scene ever? And is that also the best courtroom scene ever or is realism not necessarily conducive to drama?

  6. I think Lumet was compelled by the idea that a dumb, illiterate mid-man mobster beat the government’s law school graduate attornies…and why not? I mean how did this schmuck do it?

    So on that level, I liked FIND ME GUILTY. Yes Diesel tells alot of dirty jokes and shit, but in that dramatization, the guy seems to have have a quite decent scene or two where he does pop holes in the government’s case. Not in the “I’m innocent” shit, but in the ole nasty clutch, “not sufficiently proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Vern I’m surprised you didn’t mention *SPOILER* how because of his drug charges, he still went to jail for like many years in spite of getting himself and his mob associates off. Who left his ass hanging afterwards.

    The only scene I kinda called baloney was that speech Diesel gave to his mob co-workers about not snitching.

    Anyway, decent Lumet effort. Not necessarily an essential viewing, but like his FAMILY BUSINESS, you’ll be surprised.

  7. Speaking of legal issues please Vern, we are all waiting for your coverage and thoughts of Seagal’s latest sexual assault allegations!

  8. I was surprised how good this movie was. I worked in a video store when it came out on disc, and I put it in the Recommendations section. 100% pleasant surprise from customers: not a single person who rented it disliked it. Still, one look at that picture of Diesel with his Homer Simpson shaped head, and it’s hard not to laugh at least a little.

  9. Bryan – I don’t got much to say about that. But the sex trafficking part sounds a little far-fetched. If you’ve seen OUT OF REACH you know his feelings about sex trafficking (hint: he’s against it). I think the lawyer’s right that it will get thrown out of court, but in the unlikely event that the allegations are true I hope his partners bust him on a special 2-part episode of LAWMAN. Then I hope he runs for it and they do a crossover with DOG THE BOUNTY HUNTER. And then IRON CHEF.

    (Actually maybe he’s being set up and will have to prove his innocence in season 2.)

  10. Seagal’s innocent. Most celebrities are probably capable of all manner of sordid behaviour, but something about this whole thing just feels like bullshit to me.

    I am biased tho. After reading Vern’s book, I feel a very deep and personal vested interest in Mr. Seagal, despite the fact that I’ve still only seen ‘Under Siege’.

  11. I don’t really have anything to discuss outside of the fact that I watched this movie with my dad when he was in the hospital and I really liked it, but other than that I just wanted to say that I’ve been a fan of Peter Dinklage for a while, and now I can call myself a Dink Fink. Thank you Vern, thank you.

  12. let’s not forget that Vin Diesel is also a big D&D nerd

  13. On Seagal’s issue, yes he probably has deviant issues (what Celeb doesn’t these days ), is he guilty of sexual harassment, possibly. (He has past form after all)

    But sex trafficking, well if it the accusations are true, why is the woman suing him in civil court and not criminal court ? One reason alone, money.

    I guess her plan is to get him to pay up to avoid the embarrassment of any tabloid friendly details coming out.

    Could you say she is ‘Out for Justice’, is he going to be ‘Under Siege’, or is she just going to be ‘Marked For Death’ or face a ‘Seven Year Storm’ ? (sorry couldn’t help myself)

  14. Mr. Majestyk –

    Trials are by and large boring affairs for all involved, unless you are the defendant, then obviously you have an extreme vested interest. Tedius, repetitious, dry and completely uninvolving, that is a large portion of the time in a courtroom. Most compelling scenes in movies are not realistic, but Primal Fear did a decent job in the courtroom. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Friedkin cut the courtroom scenes in Rules of Engagement. 12 Angry Men, while not a courtroom scene is shown in the movie,is a pretty fantastic depiction of the jury process. However, most trial attorneys I know, including my old mentor, would say the most accurate courtroom depictions ever captured on celluloid are…..

    My Cousin Vinny. Seriously. So many attorneys show up in court and completely wing it, make shit up as they go and stumble across nuggets of gold blindly. Obviously Vinny is played a little more broadly for humor, but the underlying basis is fairly spot on.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    April 14th, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Obviously the only person who could arrest someone with the mad skills of Seagal would be … Seagal himself!

    I just broke my own brain.

  16. I saw this on DVD about a year ago an loved it. Diesel is great, Silver is great (he always was, even when he was slimy), the casting was dead on, the dialog flowed, a really well put together movie. You’re 100% right about how it glossed over what these guys do when they’re not in court, but I think the point was to make toy feel like the jury, to understand how they could get a pass on their lives of crime. Might have been nice if they’d found a way to show that, but it would have changed the whole tone of the movie. Show it early, and Jackie looks like an enormous weasel, and they need him to be a sympathetic character. Do it at the end, and it’s a real buzz kill; the audience will feel cheated.

    Great review.

  17. MDM: Wow. I never would have guessed. It’s like when cops are asked what the most realistic police show is and they say Barney Miller. Which they do, I hear.

  18. Vern:
    maybe he got a taste for sex trafficking after the movie, like how Dolph lundgren killed those ninjas after making punisher.

  19. Mr. Majestyk-

    By virtue of my job as well, I could second the sentiment on Barney Miller and cops.

  20. Vin Diesel was pimp in Boiler Room as well. In fact, I believe everyone and everything about Boiler Room was pimp. Except Scott Caan. That guy bugs me.

  21. So it looks like the woman who accused Seagal of sex slavery might be full of shit. Apparently she was on the Tyra Banks show about a year ago talking about her ability to manipulate and trick men into getting her way. There’s a quick clip of it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTum0Y_BVOM&feature=related

    In the meantime, they shut down production on his show until it’s resolved, I guess. http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/04/14/steven.seagal.sued/index.html?hpt=T2

    Unless criminal charges are filed against him, I tend to think Seagal is most likely not a sex slaver. But I do wonder if any of this will spill over into the next season of Lawman.

  22. I think we should all remember Vin Diesel’s turns in both Saving Private Ryan and Iron Giant.

    Don’t discount the Diesel.

  23. Never saw this movie, so I only read the first paragraph or two of the review and none of the comments.

    But how did I not hear of this. Vin Diesel in a Sydney Lumet movie? This just shot to the top of my must see list!

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