Find Me Guilty
2006Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache
idney Lumet's cinema can be characterized by a flux between a documentary-style objectivity and an intense melodrama. He does not hesitate to move from a long static shot to a series of rapid emotionally penetrating close-ups. This stylistic ambiguity has worked particularly well in the courthouse, from his masterful debut, 12 Angry Men to The Verdict with Paul Newman and the more recent Guilty as Sin. The camera mirrors the judicial process, the struggle to sort out truth from lies, right and wrong.
On the surface, Find Me Guilty seems to possess a like-minded moral vision, this time erring decidedly on the side of the gangsters on trial. One of the lawyers remarks that a laughing jury is almost always a hanging jury. Similarly, a laughing audience is a sympathetic one—and Vin Diesel’s character provides laughs. Trading in a wife-beater for a flabby bodysuit, Diesel plays Jack Dinorscio with the kind of inspiration that Lumet perennially drawn from his actors. On the other side of the aisle, the film’s antagonist is an almost district attorney (Linus Roache) with a seemingly personal vendetta against the defendants.
The moral tension here is not the state vs. the Mascarpone and Calabrese families, but rather Dinorscio's refusal to testify against his friends, even when they've turned against him. He questions the integrity of a prosecution built on ex-mobsters testifying only for their own personal gain. Which is to say, he understands absolutes. That’s where this latest Lumet drama excels. Conversely, the district attorney's perturbed rant about how juries can be manipulated by colorful personalities resonates as a timely media criticism. It's a powerful moment that should prompt viewers to stop and reevaluate, not unlike the scene in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt where we discover that Dana Andrews was guilty all along.
Lumet began his career in television, and has a keen awareness of the role of TV in the modern judicial process. He incorporates this knowledge into the dynamics of Find Me Guilty, from the archival introductory clip of Rudy Giuliani to the wealth of characters that could have easily been lifted from a Sopranos episode. Many of the tawdrier scenes here resemble Law and Order more than 12 Angry Men in the exaggerated emotion and cheap dialogue. This, however, proves remarkably fruitful for the critical viewer, as Lumet temporarily embodies that which he criticizes. Dinorscio remains the constant figure, the dubious moral authority navigating through the judicial and stylistic hypocrisies. Still, many will confuse fecundity for lack of vision, and scenes such as the slow reverberation of raised hands, following Dinorscio's impassioned speech, seem more fit for a Disney sports film than a courtroom drama. The bottom line, though, is that few living directors would have the guts to take such risks.
Find Me Guilty is in theaters across the country now.
By: Daniel Hayes
Published on: 2006-05-19