Find Me Guilty – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Sidney Lumet

Cast:

Vin Diesel………Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio
Peter Dinklage……….Ben Klandis
Alex Rocco……….Nick Calabrese
Annabella Sciorra……….Bella DiNorscio
Linus Roache……….Sean Kierney
Domenick Lombardozzi……….Jerry McQueen
Ron Silver……….Judge Finestein

Yari Film Group Releasing presents Find Me Guilty. Written by Lumet, T.J. Mancini and Robert McCrea. Running time: 125 minutes. Rated R (for strong language and some violence). DVD release date: June 27, 2006.


The Movie

Sidney Lumet is no stranger when it comes to a courtroom. Not because he was ever in trouble with the law, but because some of his great body of work explores the subject. He helmed 12 Angry Men, which takes place almost entirely in a jury room. His Verdict goes beyond the civil case being tried, and explores the life of a redemption-seeking lawyer.

24 years after directing Paul Newman, the down-on-his-luck lawyer from The Verdict, the director returns to a court of law.

The lawyer this time around is not an ambulance chaser and is not prone to drinking. Giacomo “Jackie Dee” DiNorscio doesn’t have a Rolodex of clients; he doesn’t charge $500 an hour. See, Jackie is a permanent resident, well for the next 30 years or so, of the great state of New Jersey. Prior to his incarceration, his cousin Tony thought fit to shoot him four times. Each bullet failed to hit a major artery. Jackie’s not mad. He loves his cousin. After recuperation he’s busted under the RICO antiracketeering act. As part of the Lucchese crime family, Jackie’s offered a reduced sentence by prosecutor Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) if he’ll testify against nineteen of its members. But Jackie “ain’t no rat.” Such a refusal lands him on trial alongside them, with the possibility of an extended sentence.

And herein lies a predicament.

The rest of the family doesn’t like Jackie very much. The boss, Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco), even threatens to cut Jackie’s heart out if he even mentions him. Considering he’s already in prison and can deal with a longer stay, Jackie astounds the judge, jury, prosecutors and defenders as he decides to represent himself.

Not knowing the first thing about being a lawyer, Jackie resorts to amusing antics to charm the jury and annoy the lawyers and judge. He may look like and talk like a gangster, but Jackie isn’t a gangster. “I’m a gagster not a gangster,” he calmly assures the jury and spectators. The prosecutors were unsuspecting of a wild card like DiNorscio. Though, in hindsight, they probably didn’t foresee that their case would be the longest trial in American history. 21 months, 20 defendants, 76 charges.

Just like the prosecutors were credulous of DiNorscio’s actions, viewers may be surprised at who portrays the gangster. In a bit of a gamble the producers decided on Vin Diesel to play Jackie. He’s not flexing for the camera or engaged in action-driven shenanigans. With a toupee that would make William Shatner jealous, Diesel is a thickset man who never made it past grade school. Still, what he lacks in book smarts he makes up for with his street smarts. In one scene he cuts a witness to shreds on the stand, figuratively of course, as he exposes the lawman and his preconceived notions of Italians and mobsters. And you know what happens when people assume something that isn’t true.

Beyond his wig and makeup and crimes and other transgressions, Diesel is an honest goombah. I know that seems like an oxymoron, but save for a few expletives, he’s sincere. His defense is not really a defense at all. More like his opinion of the entire judicial system.

This is quite the departure for Sidney Lumet. Some of his films underscore the changing landscapes of media (Network) and politics (All the President’s Men). Find Me Guilty explores the theme of good versus evil. But the battle – the trial – is not clear-cut. The defendants are generally misbehaved; there’s no doubting their guiltiness. Jackie DiNorscio, who pisses off everybody but the jury, is an interesting character. Almost like an antihero compared to the atypical gangster. He doesn’t snort coke or say such phrases as “Say hello to my little friend!” He doesn’t stab people to death with his mother’s butcher’s knife. Jackie’s just an underdog who values friendship and loyalty above all else.

Culled from stacks and stacks of testimony and courtroom documents, Lumet and co-writers T.J. Mancini and Robert McCrea condense a 21-month trial into a two-hour film. This may be beneficial to the viewer, as subtitles pop up to show us how many days have elapsed; but the overall story lacks drama and intrigue. The outcome isn’t a big surprise; and it’s not meant to be. The movie is a series of moments. Everybody is a characterization with few exceptions. Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) stands tall despite his diminutive size as Ben Klandis, a defender who helps Jackie get acclimated to life on the side of the law. Klandis is professional and the only man Jackie could call a friend.

Find Me Guilty is one of the few movies that I can recall that does not blatantly illustrate the gangster lifestyle. Leave that to Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese. This is Lumet’s distinction; to show what happens after the crime has been committed. A two-hour film focused on the longest trial in U.S. history may not sound appealing, but you’re in good hands with “Jackie Dee.”


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen)

Taking place mostly in one location, a courtroom, leave it to Lumet and his director of photography Ron Fortunato to make it look interesting. Shot on high-def video, the presentation is quite stunning. Sharpness and detail are standard. Everything from the wood stain on the courtroom paneling to the vast array of suits and ties is appealing. No pixelation issues or problems with digital artifacts.

THE AUDIO
(English – Dolby Digital 5.1)

There are no gunshots or retro soundtrack to liven up your sound system, as the film is completely dialogue-driven. Without the need for surround sound the 5.1 track is pretty useless. Still, the audio quality is fine with clear dialogue. A nice touch is the song used to open the film: “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” by Louis Prima. This must be what a gangster listens to when he’s being a gagster.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Not much in the way of extras. There is a conversation with Sidney Lumet. The feature has nine subsections dealing with different aspects of Find Me Guilty. Nine may sound like a lot, but most comments are thirty seconds in length. Those looking for insightful information may not find much in the span of 4:40.

The only other extras are the film’s theatrical trailer, TV spots, and a trailer for My Cousin Vinny.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Find Me Guilty
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

1.5
REPLAY VALUE

6
OVERALL
6
(NOT AN AVERAGE)