Sidney Lumet is a director who takes his actors to unexpected places, drawing from them career defining performances as seen with Al Pacino in Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, Peter Finch in Network and Paul Newman in The Verdict. And so it goes with Vin Diesel.
Find Me Guilty is the true story of the events surrounding the longest running criminal trial in American history (21 months to be precise). The trial saw the District Attorney of New York City (Linus Roache) arresting every member of the New Jersey faction of the Lucchesi crime family under conspiracy charges, brought on by the newly established RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) Act. Among them is Jackie Di Norscio (Vin Diesel), the families Narcotics lieutenant and resident joker, who is already serving a 30 year stint in jail for a drug related incident.
Refusing to rat out his friends in exchange for a lighter sentence, Di Norscio goes to trial along with the rest of the family. Sick of paying expensive attorney fees for inadequate services, Di Norscio decides to defend himself to the chagrin of his fellow indictees and their lawyers and the amazement of the D.A., while continually testing the patience of the honourable Judge Finestein (Ron Silver).
As is the case with many of Lumet’s films, the biggest strength lies within the performances of his actors. Vin Diesel – he of such action movies like Fast and the Furious and XXX – gives a surprisingly good performance as the charming, at times humiliating to watch gangster who considers himself a “gagster”.
Diesel is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, with Ron Silver’s tough but fair judge, Peter Dinklage’s criminal attorney, and Annabella Sciorra – who gives a memorable minor performance as Di Norscio’s ex-wife – the pick of the litter.
The markedly realistic court setting (most of the court dialogue is actual recorded testimony) coupled with Lumet’s voyeuristic camera shots gives a fly on the wall perspective of the American justice system. It also represents the guilt, shame, flamboyance and loyalty within the mafia lifestyle, as told through the never ending barrage of witnesses who testified on behalf of the D.A., but also through the un-orthodox court conduct of Di Norscio who despite being a drug dealer, extortionist and murderer, manages to win over the jury and also the viewer.
If this were not a true story, it would never be accepted as real. Find Me Guilty another fine addition to Lumet’s acclaimed filmography and a great performance by Diesel.