Written by: Sidney Lumet, T.J. Mancini, Robert J. McCrea
Starring: Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco
As a nation of laws, the sanctity of the courtroom has become of utmost importance even to the point where a judge can jail someone for showing disrespect or lack of decorum. These courtrooms have been the homes of various great films with filmmakers using the stakes within those walls to build excellent dramas with Sidney Lumet being one of them. His success in this genre of film makes it all the more hilarious when he nearly makes a mockery of it all in Find Me Guilty.
On trial with a host of other defendants, Jackie DiNorsico (Vin Diesel) has decided to defend himself in this massive case. With four prosecutors and a case that has become a circus, he enters the fray to prove his innocence and avoid all forms of temptation to turn on the mobsters that have always been his family.
Nearly appearing as a spoof film, Find Me Guilty reaches a new level of silliness I never thought would come from someone like Sidney Lumet. For a filmmaker with 12 Angry Men serving as his debut, he certainly has reverence for the importance of a court case seeing as it can heavily impact the lives of the individuals on trial. Respect for the process becomes the central conflict between the jurors in his masterpiece, which makes this feature so much more jarring but once you get on its wavelength, it turns into such an entertaining ride. The key to any success this film could find comes from the casting of Jackie and while Vin Diesel served as an unconventional choice based on his track record, it worked incredibly well.
Portraying a complete goofball, Vin Diesel goes completely against type from the action star persona he built through various franchises and goes fully farcical in this turn as Jackie. Making lude jokes but ones that make him lovable overall, you almost can forget this man impedes the justice system trying to bring a bunch of mobsters to justice. This scenario puts the audience on the other side of how these cases typically go as we can assume these men are guilty of the charges brought against them, but it becomes difficult to root against Jackie and the fun banter he brings to the courtroom. All forms of decorum get thrown out the window as Jackie metaphorically spits in the face of justice but the way it gets put together makes for an engaging experience overall.
Deciding to represent himself makes for a consequential decision for the rest of the case, which puts him in hot water with the other mob bosses with the humorous nature he takes with his defense. Despite all of the threats by the bosses and from the prosecutors, Jackie’s most endearing aspect proves to be his loyalty in refusing to turn on his fellow mobsters. With multiple opportunities to walk free from the crimes, he refuses to be a rat on the people he considers family. A sentiment not fully reciprocated by the mobsters at times but it allows the audience to root for Jackie even if his tight lips get in the way of bringing these bad men to justice.
The idea of this trial being based on a real situation makes it all even funnier considering how much Jackie gets away with in the courtroom. Sure, embellishments could have been implanted in order to raise the entertainment aspects of it but certain moments really make you question how in the world this could have actually occurred. Take the scene where Jackie gets the opportunity to question a witness and insinuates the witness has implicated him because of unreciprocated romantic advances. Objections certainly raised but it truly shows just how much Jackie could get away with in court without being held in contempt.
Evidently, being a rat has a worse connotation than serving time as seen in Find Me Guilty. It allows Vin Diesel the opportunity to fall into full comedy while also having some touching dramatic moments sprinkled in. Weirdly enough, it may stand out as one of his best performances. At times I have to remind myself this film came from Sidney Lumet and I just have to laugh because no material has felt more mismatched for a filmmaker only for it to turn out well. I mean, the hairpiece on Diesel’s head alone makes it worth seeing.