My Cousin Vin Diesel

Find Me Guilty

Vin Diesel, Ron Silver, and Alex Rocco star in a film written and directed by Sidney Lumet.

In 1960, Kenneth Tynan wrote in the New Yorker, “Hardly anything in the whole range of dramaturgy is more difficult to write than a dull trial scene.” Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Murder on the Orient Express), who directed 12 Angry Men four years before Tynan’s pronouncement, might have felt scanted in this regard. His courtroom masterpiece, unlike, say, Witness for the Prosecution, unwinds after the trial proper in the jury’s chambers. He didn’t get to have a gruff attorney bray, “Objection, your honor,” or a crusty but benign judge bark, “Overruled” while waiting for some juicy inappropriate behavior to develop into the stuff of life and death, truth or consequences, innocent-versus-guilty capital-T theater.

So, for whatever reason, he made this film almost a half century later, and, just to be safe, based it pretty much on the transcripts of the longest New York mafia trial (21 months) ever. Just the same, Lumet’s lamely titled Find Me Guilty seems to partake more of the grand My Cousin Vinny or Legally Blonde tradition than it does The Trial of Oscar Wilde. Vin Diesel plays Giacomo “Fat Jack” DiNorscio brilliantly, but he’s a Lord of Misrule let loose in a courtroom where the murdering, philandering, and extortionary mob might finally be brought down under the law. Lumet’s story of Fat Jack’s funny grandstanding of his own defense makes the whole thing seem pretty wacky after all. So does the Woody Allen-esque jazz band Louis Prima version of “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You),” which plays throughout the film to underscore the soulfulness of the Cosa Nostra thugs over the pinched hearts of the informers and the New York legal system.

But maybe this makes it sound like it’s not fun to watch. Though the un-rigorousness of the trial scenes does make the film drip with an amber sentimental sap, it’s a compelling thing none the less. Diesel is crude, delicate, schmaltzy, and brainy in this very unexpected dramedy. Any objections to weird little films from a maestro like Sidney Lumet are hereby overruled.

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