Friday, June 20, 2014

Film Friday: Find Me Guilty (2006)

Find Me Guilty is a 2006 courtroom dark-comedy written and directed by Sidney Lumet, which is based on the true story of the longest Mafia trial in American history (21 months). The film stars Vin Diesel as Giacomo “Jackie” DiNorscio, and much of it is taken directly from the court transcripts. This is one of those movies I never heard of until I stumbled upon it one night, and audiences stayed away in droves, but it turns out to be a rather good movie.
Plot
As the film starts, mobster Giacomo “Jackie” DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) finds himself lying in bed as his friend and cousin marches into the room and shoots him. Jackie doesn’t die. When he doesn’t, his cousin runs to the government and turns informant against him! The United States Attorney now wants Jackie to rat out his friends and family as well, or he will be charged with enough racketeering crimes to put him away forever. He refuses and he, and all of his friends and family, find themselves charged with a vast array of crimes.
The government’s case is supported by evidence from a number of informants and the observations of FBI agents. Things don’t look good. Complicating matters, they are trying each of these defendants together as part of the same conspiracy. Thus, you have dozens of defendants and their lawyers scattered around the courtroom, and they have problems coordinating their defense. The lead defense attorney is Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage). It will be an interesting trial indeed.
Then the wild card gets tossed in: Jackie decides to represent himself.

This decision leads to a bitter and funny courtroom battle of wills between Jackie, who doesn’t always help his own case, the district attorney (Linus Roache), and the frustrated co-defendants who think Jackie is dooming them all. Presiding over this circus is Judge Sidney Finestein (Ron Silver). And for the next 21 months, the longest trial in American history plays out in this manner.
Why This Film Worked
Find Me Guilty was a rather enjoyable film. It more than held my interest, it made me want to know what happened next. You even come to like and/or respect certain characters. Vin Diesel slowly but surely wins you over, as does Peter Dinklage as the leader of the defendants. Ron Silver too plays a character you come to respect. I can’t think of the last recent film I saw where I liked or cared about or respected three different characters.
And what makes you like/respect these guys is, without a doubt, the solid acting of each actor. Vin Diesel is, as always, compelling on screen. In this instance, he has hair and he’s put on 30 pounds and he plays an oaf, which gives him an usual feel, but it can’t hide his natural appeal. He’s simply one of those people you want to like and he uses that to great effect here as he tells tasteless jokes and does stupid things and defends the indefensible, but does so with such charm that you end up laughing with him rather than scowling at him. Dinklage had the hardest job as attorneys are normally presented as type-A assholes by Hollywood or as liberal saps. Dinklage, instead, plays the character as someone who is talented and is indeed frustrated at Jackie, but who comes to admire Jackie’s efforts and his growth throughout the film, and always treats him with respect. That in turn makes us like Dinklage. Silver, for his part, does a great job of playing the kind of judge everyone wished they had if they ever ended up in court – tough but fair. Unlike so many judges in other courtroom dramas, Silver doesn’t showboat, he doesn’t plot to help either side, and he doesn’t let the parties manipulate him. He does his job and, by God, everyone is going to get a fair shake in his courtroom. That’s noble.
Helping these characters, this film presents a surprisingly realistic portrayal of the American court system. This isn’t a film that lets the characters get away with whatever they want, doesn’t allow for deus ex machina, and doesn’t insult your intelligence by forcing people to accept something they would obviously never accept. To put this in a different way, if you end up liking Jackie by the end, it’s because Vin Diesel has earned it, it’s not because you are told that you now must like him, nor is it because of a sudden last-second epiphany meant to manipulate you. To the contrary, Diesel works little by little, scene after scene to show you that better traits of this man.

As an aside, the witnesses against Jackie and the others are very typical of what you find in court – losers and criminals who have been bought off by the government, sloppy criminal investigators, and people who let their bias influence their opinions. But more importantly, this film doesn’t show each being destroyed. Instead, you get what you normally get in court, one side presenting the evidence, the other side casting doubt on the witnesses, and everyone needing to wait to see what the jury made of the exchange.
As I point out a few weeks ago, the key here is that every moment of this film is credible and realistic and it earns your emotions by winning them little by little. And the result of all of that is that you do come to care about the characters and what happens, and that holds your attention to the very end, through the good, the bad, the funny, the serious, the emotional and the asides. This is not a film someone like a Judd Apatow could have written.

So how does this film compare to other legal dramas? I still see Presumed Innocent as the high watermark, but this film has a similar feel to it. This film is much more realistic than anything Grisham has done. It’s not as funny as My Cousin Vinny, but it’s not meant to be – though it is funny at times. The one problem I would say with this film is that it has a curious lack of high stakes because Jackie seems to like prison – he’s already in jail on a drug charge. So you never reach an ultra high-tension moment because little changes for Jackie if he loses. But the film still has numerous solid dramatic moments, and you do want to see Jackie win.

Thoughts?

23 comments:

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Nice review, Andrew!
I'll be sure to check this one out asap. I believe this was one of if not the last film Ron Silver was in before he died. He always did a superb job in the films
i have seen him in and I like Vin Diesel and Peter Dinklage.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Ben! I had no idea this film existed until I stumbled upon it, and I really liked it. I like all three main actors. It's really well done. And it kept me interested, which is so rare these days!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It's always a shame when a good film slips through the cracks. Hopefully it will at least reach cult status.
I really enjoy character driven stories that are well written, acted and directed.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, It's hard to tell. It is a good movie, but I don't know if it will pick up an audience. I guess we'll see. And yes, this one is definitely driven by the acting and the characters.

Kit said...

Sounds good.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It is. It's not Top 10 great or anything like that, but it is a very enjoyable film that is well worth seeing.

Tennessee Jed said...

I have been a fan of a lot of Lumet's work. He sort of specialized in this genre (e.g. New York crime drama.) Of his better known court room work, I loved the Verdict, but not 12 Angry Men. Any court room drama that credibly portrays the criminal justice system, but doesn't put you to sleep, and has good acting is worthy in my book.

ScottDS said...

I've never seen this film but I remember they showed a clip of it during the Oscars when Lumet won an honorary award in 2005. (I also remember it because Lumet was sitting next to his hot, busty brunette daughter!)

I've seen maybe a fraction of his films, though Network remains a personal favorite.

I bet if this film were released today, it would do pretty well, especially since Diesel's star power has only increased.

And man, I miss Ron Silver!! No one could play slimy villain as well as he could!

Tennessee Jed said...

I tend to agree, Scott. While Diesel had already done Riddick, he would not have been a draw outside the action genre. Silver was a wellknown character actor, and Dinklagemay have been the go to dwarf, but the cast lacked any star power. I didn't look up exactly when it was released, but 2006 was a time when home theater was really catching on. Without big names or heavy marketing, Ii can understand how this one went under the radar.

Kit said...

Jed, Scott,

Dinklage would also be a draw today because of his role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones

Tennessee Jed said...

I don't disagree Kit, but Lumet was really the only big name associated with this film at the time. Only a very few directors (such as Hitchcock) would be able to draw just on their own reputation.

AndrewPrice said...

Hi everyone. Sorry to be so late. Sadly, this is the beginning of a busy week.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I'm not sure I'm a Lumet fan. I definitely didn't like Twelve Angry Men. This one was quite good though.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think that is a big part of the problem. At the time, there wouldn't have been a huge name attached. At the same time, I would bet that the marketing on this was nonexistent or fairly bad,.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Dinklage certainly has more fans now, but I don't think he's got a broad base of fans yet because GOT isn't that widely seen.

Tennessee Jed said...

I think Lumet was incredibly prolific, and like Soderbergh, he is uneven. I try and separate subject matter from one's writing and directorial skills. At his best, his films are very, very good, but there are a good share of stinkers. He was known as an actor's director. In my opinion, that kind of director is more likely to draw out great performances from the cast.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

In other news, it looks like Rian Johnson will be writing and directing the next two Star Wars films. I liked Brick but The Brothers Bloom and Looper both left me wanting.

We live in interesting times... :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Also, if anybody remembers the review I did of the "indie" film "Sound of my Voice", and if you get the Cinemax package or have access to the HBO?Max preview on DirectTV this weekend, it is on MMax (517 on DirectTV) at 5:30a.m. EDT in case you have access to a DVR.

Anonymous said...

When I first saw this article I thought the title rang a bell, but it wasn't until I saw the picture with a fat Vin Diesel that I realised I'd seen this movie and I really liked it.

Like Andrew I'd never heard anything about it, but I watched it as I loved Pitch Black and other Vin movies. This is nothing like them except for the fact that it is great.

He plays one of those characters that you should loath, but with such charm and everyman style that you learn to love him and the parts that are unbelievable are what happens to him, not what he does.

I haven't seen this for years and I had forgotten about it, now I'm going to have to find a copy of it to enjoy again.

Oh and it is funny to watch Tyrion Lannister before he was famous.

Scott.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting choice. I guess we'll see what happens.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott,Agreed. Vin Diesel carries this film and he ends up producing a very enjoyable film. :)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Just saw the film last night. I snagged a copy at Amazon. Excellent! One interesting aspect was how Jackie won over his fellow gangsters, who were, justifiably so angry at him in the beginning for hurting their cases.
But in the end he helped their cases and they realized Jackie really did love them.

About halfway through I found myself thinking the prosecutor had bit off way more than he could chew.
I wondered why he chose to try all of the suspects together rather than separately, and it dawned on me this guy never lost a case before.
So he was overconfident at. the beginning, and no doubt wanted a huge win to help him out politically.
But as the overwhelming evidence got slowly tainted you could see him start to unravel.
Plus, his tactics didn't endear himto the jury. He didn't come off as likable and despite the evidence that's important to jurors because it raises doubt about his character.
Was he really out for justice or was this a vendetta he was using to help himself?

OTOH, Dinklage was likable and he never came across as a weasel trying to find a loophole.
I mean, although we knowthese guys are guilty as hell, Dinklage, and Jackie do a great job discrediting the prosecutors witnesses.
Indeed, they prove these guys are indeed liars.

So it stands to reason that they ain't credible. Certainly they raised the reasonable doubt flag. And once someone is established to be a liar who is gonna believe them?
Plus, they also weren't likable.

Very deep, intriguing, and enjoyable film!
Thanks for introducing me to this gem, Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it. As I said, I didn't even know about this film until I stumbled upon it and I enjoyed it a lot. It's quite good.

I agree about the prosecutor. He bit off too much and he thought he could do whatever he wanted. He ended up angering the jury and losing them to the much more charming Jackie.

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