March 23, 2006

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Find Me Guilty (PG-13)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Vin Diesel auditions for a guest spot on The Sopranos by playing a “lovable” mobster (or, more accurately, an emotionally needy wiseguy) in Find Me Guilty, a based-on-a-true story written and directed by Sydney Lumet.

Before you get too confused by the Lumet connection to this made-for-TV-quality movie, remember that for every Dog Day Afternoon or 12 Angry Men, there’s a The Wiz. Nobody’s perfect and there’s a weird likeability about the story (much of which came directly from the real-life court records, according to the film’s title cards) that, I guess, explains Lumet’s attraction.

Jack DiNorscio (Diesel) is an old-school wiseguy — silk suit, belly, “yoos guys” accent and “I ain’t no rat” mentality. He gets picked up for a drug charge and then roped in to a larger RICO case which involves some dozen or more guys in his crime family. A mid-level mobster, Jack is at least as concerned with his likeability as with his legal status. That likeability might be his only defense when he decides, after losing a case and a great deal of money with one lawyer, to represent himself. This has his associates a bit concerned — after all, as lead defense attorney Ben (Peter Dinklage) explains, RICO means that one conviction could convict them all. But Jack surprises defendants, prosecutors – led by Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) – and the judge (Ron Silver) by making the jury laugh and by poking weird holes in the government’s case. Mob boss Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco) and prosecutor Kierney both want to see Jack separated from the case and Jack’s courtroom catcalls put him at constant risk of his own trial. But the judge also seems to have something of a soft spot for Jack’s legal baby steps.

Jack calls himself a “gagster not a gangster” and slowly starts to win over the jury. Very slowly. At slightly more than two hours, this movie is at least 30 minutes too long. Diesel is not a subtle actor — his best work has been in movies where he’s shirtless and growling. He seems here a little too much like somebody doing a James Gandolfini impersonation. The rest of the cast is equally one-note and this movie has the slightly bloated and stagy feel of those early HBO movies like Late Shift.

Despite all this — and like Late Shift — there is a kind of lazy charm to Find Me Guilty. Diesel plays his role like a lookalike more than a character, a guy who fits the suit. But he does fit the suit and sometimes very well and all this silliness taken so seriously (Linus Roache plays the prosecutor as a guy so uptight you feel constipated just watching him) is weirdly engaging and, though too long, highly watchable.

There is one exception to the general mediocrity of the acting and that is Peter Dinklage. As kick-ass here as he was on the short-lived Threshold (where he played a linguist with a love of gambling and strip clubs), Dinklage deserves his own show already. As the lead defense attorney here, he is all kinds of gravitas. On Threshold, he wore a leather jacket and was the only one who delivered any sass-back with credibility. Here’s an actor in need of a really meaty part. C+


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