Find Me Guilty

Cast:
Vin Diesel as Giacomo ‘Fat Jack’ DiNorscio
Peter Dinklage as Ben Klandis
Richard DeDomenico as Tom “Nappy” Napoli
Tim Cinnante as Joey Calabrese
Vinny DeGennaro as Danny Roma
Raúl Esparza as Tony Compagna
Jerry Grayson as Jimmy Katz
Annabella Sciorra
Ron Silver as Judge Finestein
Richard Portnow as Max Novardis
James Biberi as Frank Brentano
Paul Borghese as Gino Mascarpone
Ben Lipitz as Henry Kelsey
Nicholas A. Puccio as Tedeschi
Linus Roache as Sean Kierney
Alex Rocco as Nick Calabrese
Domenick Lombardozzi as Jerry McQueen
Dennis Albanese as Court Officerxw
Michalina Almindo as Gino’s Girlfriend
David Brown as U. S. Marshall
Rose Pasquale as Roselyn Mascarpone
Frank Pietrangolare as Carlo Mascarpone

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Summary:
What could have been a solid true-life courtroom drama tends to delve into the ridiculous due to Vin Diesel’s incessant comic schtick, which makes it hard to take any of it very seriously.

Story:
Giacomo “Jackie D” DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) is a lifelong criminal jailed on drug charges after being shot four times. When he’s given the option to testify against his Jersey crime family in a conspiracy case, he instead decides to defend himself in one of the longest court cases in U.S. history.

Analysis:
It’s nice to see the great Sidney Lumet, director of the ’70s crime classics “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Serpico,” making movies again. While “Find Me Guilty” has some of the same crime elements of those beloved films, it’s a very different movie. The story is based on actual transcripts from the 21-month court case that took place during the late ’80s when the New Jersey based Lucchese crime family were brought to trial on RICO charges. In the midst of it, was a wisecracking gangster named Jackie DiNorscio, who tried to defend himself using his wit and charm, and almost brought the whole case down.

Vin Diesel’s caricature of DiNorscio, complete with a partial head of hair and a paunch, provides the film’s focal point. When we first meet Jackie, he’s being shot four times by a junkie cousin, as he lies in bed, and after being busted on drug charges, Jackie is propositioned by the feds to testify against his own family in a massive RICO case. Jackie refuses to rat on his own family and goes to jail, but when the case goes to trial, he has already decided to fire his useless lawyer and defend himself. By that point, Jackie’s family doesn’t trust him anymore and want nothing to do with him, especially the head honcho Joey Calabrese, who tries to distance himself from Jackie, thinking that he will blow their case. With that in mind, the chief prosecutor starts targeting DiNorscio, knowing that he’s the defense’s Achilles heel.

Though the real court case is fascinating in its historical context, especially for those who enjoys real-life mob stories, the movie suffers some serious problems, the most obvious ones being its excessive length and its inability to decide whether it should be a straight comedy or a serious courtroom drama. It never sticks to either for more than a few minutes, and even when it tries to get serious, Jack’s schtick as he tries to perfect his stand-up routine in front of the jury, drags it back down again. That said, it never ventures fully into the realm of comedy, so you’re never sure whether you’re meant to laugh. It gets better as it goes along, once you’ve adjusted to Vin’s character and the tone of the piece, but at over two hours, you feel like you’ve sat through all 21 months of the court case yourself. There are just too many ideas and unnecessary scenes to add unbelievable artistic license, while still trying to cover all of the key moments from the lengthy trial. Never has it been more obvious how a bit of smart editing could have improved a movie.

Diesel is charming enough as DiNorscio, but as much as you want to like him, he’s clearly out of his depth trying to bounce between the wisecrackin’ Jackie and the dramatic moments, like when Jackie finally confronts his cousin on the stand. On the other hand, Peter Dinklage is as good as ever, as the defense lawyer who tries to help Jackie out with his own case. For most of the movie, he looks like he’s wondering what he’s doing there and what he did to deserve it. Ron Silver also comes across well as the judge having to rule over the never-ending circus that the trial ultimately turns into.

The rest of the cast includes a lot of familiar faces from central casting playing the type of “goomba” stereotypes that will infuriate any Italian-American who hates “The Sopranos.” It doesn’t do much to make the case more interesting or to dissuade those stereotypes. At least “The Sopranos” has some real drama and pathos amidst its humor, thanks to its far superior writing and cast.

As the court case and the movie reach their finish line, it starts to get a bit too bogged down in its own sentimentality, and while the ending is satisfying enough, the path to get there leaves you scratching your head about what you just watched. This story could have just as easily been told in a much shorter TV movie.

The Bottom Line:
While a serious courtroom drama from Lumet would have been very welcome, this tends to get so caught up in the comedy bits that it’s hard to take it seriously the few times it tries settles down to tell a real story. It’s not terrible and there will be those who appreciate the movie’s humor, but even that pales in comparison to sillier gangster comedies like “My Cousin Vinny” and “Analyze This.”

Find Me Guilty opens in major cities on Friday.

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