Monday, May 3, 2010

Find Me Guilty (Lumet 2006)

(While the move is being a pain in the butt, here is another classic review till I finish the Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans review)

Find Me Guilty is perhaps the most frustrating type of movie to review simply because of what it is: a professionally made, solidly written, directed and performed film that is completely lacks any distinguishing features to make it memorable. Of course, when you have a director as great as Sidney Lumet who gave us 12 Angry Men, a statement such as the one I made might still be seen as damning. It shouldn’t be, but the film never reaches the highs or lows that make a great director’s work worth discussing. After considering Find Me Guilty from all angles, the conclusion I reach is that there are better Sidney Lumet films, better Vin Diesel films, better court room dramas, better court room comedies, and better mob films that one should seek out first.

The film is based on the true events of the longest criminal trial in US history as an entire New Jersey mob family is arrested and to be put on trial all at once. One of these mobsters is Jackie DiNorscio (Diesel) an aging man already convicted for a drug charge in a separate case. DiNorscio is approached by DA Sean Kierney (Linus Roache, aka Bruce Wayne’s dad), who will get DiNorscio’s prison sentence reduced if he testifies against his associates. Instead, DiNorscio refuses and chooses to defend himself in court, with occasional advice from lead defence attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage). What results is a slightly absurd trial as DiNorscio’s generally loveable personality becomes the center of focus, much to the frustration of the prosecution.

The film is not so much about the court case itself, but rather an examination of DiNorscio’s unfailing sense of loyalty to his mob family and his inability to differentiate between personal ties and business ties, even when such loyalty seems misplaced. When the film opens, Jackie is nearly killed when his cousin shoots him several times: Jackie believes his cousin still loves him deep down and is simply in need of help for a drug problem, hence his refusal to turn him over to the police. Jackie, as played by Diesel, is not innocent of the crimes accused but does have an innocent view of the world. He does not seem to understand why people could possibly dislike him or doubt that he loves them. Kierney is the exact opposite of Jackie, a man who is legally innocent and right but is so personally arrogant and dislikeable that the viewer almost entirely sides with Jackie despite of the evidence.

This binary opposition of the characters is part of the problem with the film though. In one of the film’s best scenes, Kierney lets loose his frustration about the jury finding Jackie likeable and its impact upon their society, noting that after all, these men are murders and thieves. However, the viewer is never really left in conflict. Jackie is such a nice guy that we never really are left to see the other side of his life. In fact, the crimes Jackie has been involved with are pretty much swept away from the view of the viewer. Meanwhile, Kierney's horrible personality is in full display, ending any chance of conflicting ambiguity.

The end result of all of this is that there is no drama. While the film is interesting, it never becomes involving, leaving the film as little more than a collection of moments, of interesting scenes that really don’t add up to a whole lot. This is shocking given that, as noted, Lumet made perhaps the most intense court based films ever made in 12 Angry Men. Whereas each member of the jury in that film had distinct personalities and viewpoints,in Find Me Guilty, the supporting cast has nothing to work with. Dinklage and Ron Silver have very little to do, and the entire mass of the mob is nothing more than a series of Italian mafia stereotypes.

Worse, the film has a made for cable feel about it, from adequate but not great production design to shoddy makeup. The film is supposed to be set in the 1980s, but nothing in the film ever manages to feel evocative of the era. And while Diesel does his best as an actor here, the makeup he is given does not look natural, never allowing the viewer to believe in the supposed age of his character. The film would have been better served by casting an older actor in the role, and given the likeable but not overly bright approach taken to Jackie in the film, one could easily have seen Sylvester Stallone in the role. Yes, I am being serious.

I could say more about Find Me Guilty, but there really is not that much left. The film is a minor work for all involved, and is fine if there is nothing else to watch. But with all the possible choices one has, that will leave this film near the bottom of the pile

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