Mobster Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) has been shot, betrayed, imprisoned for drug offenses, and now faces new charges in court, but the state needs his help. Offered leniency for assisting in the prosecution of the notorious Lucchese crime family, DiNorscio turns down the offer and elects to stand trial, choosing the ludicrous notion of defending himself. While inexperienced in a court of law, DiNorscio looks to charm the jury with his gentle musings on guilt, and embarks on the longest criminal trial in American history.
"Find Me Guilty" (IMDb listing) is intended to be the coming out party for Vin Diesel's dramatic acting career; his big stretch as a performer with a role that challenges his gifts. So who does Diesel play? A dim-witted, marble-mouthed, thug gangster with a heart of gold. If that's stretching, then let's polish up the Oscar right now for Chris Tucker's revelatory performance in "Rush Hour 3."
Perhaps as an insurance policy, Diesel has director Sidney Lumet in his corner to guide the whole production. Lumet is a Hollywood legend ("Dog Day Afternoon," "Network"), and knows his way around a courtroom ("12 Angry Men," "The Verdict"). While the last decade hasn't been kind to him, Lumet is an assured filmmaker who still maintains a soft spot for cinematic elements that frustrate the current crop of filmmakers: like acting and character-intensive screenwriting. If "Guilty" does anything correct it would be the specific re-creation of the DiNorscio trial, which dragged on for over two years and drained the energy of all the participants along the way. The film is shot in Lumet's typically dry way, with minimal flash and emphasis on dialog, which might bore some viewers to tears, but Lumet never halts the film's pace. "Guilty" is deliberate in showing the audience the circus-like courtroom that DiNorscio presided over, along with the emotional toll the endless trial took on him and his family. It's unremarkable, but solid direction.
While I give kudos to Diesel for at least trying something new, his performance is the weak link of "Guilty." Lumet doesn't help matters by putting Diesel in the frame with talent like Annabella Sciorra (in a heated cameo), Ron Silver, Linus Roache, Peter Dinkledge, and Alex Rocco, who tend to blow away Diesel like a leaf in a tornado. Given a hairpiece, a gut that Diesel emphatically acknowledges as though he was a first year acting student, and a series of lethargic speeches, the action star can't keep pace with the rest of the film, and fails to provide the ribbons of charm that helped DiNorscio win the hearts of the jurors and the respect of the lawyers. Diesel's interpretation resembles a mentally-challenged gangster with inexplicable flashes of sizzling courtroom prowess that come out of nowhere, and leave in a hurry.
Filmfodder Grade: C-