Find Me Guilty Movie Review
There's a serious losing streak as far as "true stories" in cinema are going. It's an open invitation to drizzle overdone sentimentality and turn crass tear-jerking into box office gold (see Glory Road or North Country?). That being said, that kind of stuff is spun gold in the face of the haphazard bile that is being thrown at the audience in Sidney Lumet's latest film, Find Me Guilty.
The film opens with Tony Campagna (Raul Esparza) making a panicked phone call to an unnamed person. He immediately goes from there to the home of his cousin, "Fat Jack" DiNorscio, a lone shark and cocaine dealer, and shoots him five times. For reasons unknown, DiNorscio survives, but refuses to rat on Tony. To him, ratting on family and friends is worse than death, and he tells his daughter that as she sits next to his hospital bed. Soon enough, Jack is in jail and part of a massive trial with most of the New Jersey crime family. In court, Jack befriends a lawyer (Peter Dinklage) but refuses his council, deciding to represent himself instead, against the wishes of mob boss Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). DiNorscio makes terrible jokes, but like all naïve if not honest men, he's endearing in a certain way, especially to Judge Finestein (Ron Silver). His charming and quirky attitude in court is hard to stand but seems to work on the jury, as they go in the room to deliberate on what would become the longest court case in U.S. history.
As much as I'd like to announce that Lumet has returned to the fine, fiery work he did with Paul Newman in The Verdict and that Vin Diesel has some talent outside sci-fi films, it is not to be. The first and chief problem is the script by Lumet, T.J. Mancini, and Robert J. McCrea. The entire film is placed squarely on the shoulders of Diesel, who doesn't have the comic or dramatic ability to make this film work. His scenes with Silver have certain warmth to them, but its Lifetime Network dialogue and arc sink any emotional core. Dinklage, a miracle in 2003's The Station Agent, isn't really given any dimension besides being the only lawyer that doesn't hate Jack. The only scene that works here is where DiNorscio gets a conjugal visit from his ex-wife (a superb Annabella Sciorra). Her anger at him slowly melts into lust, right before the guards take Jack back to his cell. No other frame of the film even hints at that kind of danger or sexuality.
While watching the film, you get the feeling that you are always being held at arms length from the characters and the plot. The moments alone with DiNorscio are always used to further him as a simple goofball, who is honorable only because he believes in "family" (every mobster does). There aren't any moments of real contemplation or anything to suggest that this character is anything but a caricature. I'd love to blame it all on Diesel and say that a good movie was sunk by a lousy performance, but Diesel is literally not even a quarter of the problem.
There is simply no reason to invest in these people, if for no other reason than that no time was invested in the characters during the creative process. The way we feel about films that are simply goofy (Dumb & Dumber, Old School) isn't here because the script keeps calling on these dramatic moments that feel completely out of place and empty. It fails on almost every level possible to fail on. To see the director of Dog Day Afternoon and Network pull this kind of charade is uncommonly depressng.