Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Find Me Guilty: DVD Review


My name is Professor Dare. From time to time, I will be contributing reviews of films and video games that have a pulp bent to them. My first review is of Find Me Guilty, a Sidney Lumet courtroom mafia "dramedy" starring Vin Diesel - who is cast against type. Can the chrome-domed action star make it work? This time, he has...HAIR! Keep reading...

Find Me Guilty: DVD Review

Vin Diesel has hair.

Vin Diesel has a potbelly.

Vin Diesel can act.

Those three statements generally aren't made about the usually bald and always physically toned action star - but they all apply to Diesel in Sidney Lumet's mafia courtroom "dramedy" Find Me Guilty, which is based on the true story of the longest criminal trial in U.S. history.

Much of the dialogue was taken from actual testimony. There are some situations and exchanges in the movie that would be considered unbelievable and absurd in a fictional narrative, but they actually happened in the real trial.

Diesel plays a Mafia wiseguy, Jackie DiNorscio, who defends himself in court instead of relying on a lawyer. The judge warns him that a man who represents himself "has a fool for a client." Shortly thereafter, Vin approaches the jury and says "I'm no gangster, I'm a gagster." He proves the latter part of his statement with his hilarious, offbeat antics throughout the trial. It becomes a common occurrence for the judge to pound his gavel several times in frustration, yell for order in the court, and repeatedly threaten to hold Diesel "in contempt of court."

Joe Pesci was apparently Lumet's first choice, so you can pretty much figure out the type of character to expect. I'm glad Diesel ended up doing it though. If Pesci had gotten the role, it would've been just more of him playing the same character he always does (which is a treat, granted). Diesel is cast so against type, and he pulls it off beautifully. It's much more fun and rewarding to watch him at work.

While there are definitely dramatic elements to the film, there's also a fair bit of comedy as well (hence the reason I referred to it as a "dramedy" earlier). The trial turns into a bit of a circus, with tons of lawyers present in the courtroom at the same time, an army of witnesses, evidence numbering in the hundreds, Diesel's "gagster" antics, and other assorted bits of tomfoolery.

Peter Dinklage is also a revelation. He's a dwarf in real life, but that's never once played for laughs. In fact, his character - a lawyer - might be the most serious in the movie. And it works. It works because Dinklage brings a professionalism and intensity to the role that makes his stature completely irrelevant.

Ron Silver is also fantastic as the judge. I've only seen him in smarmy villain roles, and his persona was always unlikable and grating to me. Not here. He tones it down and plays the judge with a great degree of empathy for the characters and situations.

Annabella Sciorra also shines in a small role as Vin Diesel's spunky wife.

As for Diesel himself, this is easily the best performance of his career - and believe it or not, it's right up there with any of Pesci's finest.

Lumet hasn't lost his touch. (He is, of course, famous for another courtroom classic, 12 Angry Men - as well as Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and others.)

This is a great movie. It's funny, touching, and highly recommended.

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