FIND ME GUILTY

I’ve never had much interest in Vin Diesel. I’ve seen him as yet another action star with a fairly ordinary action career spanning a commercially successful – but critically maimed – action franchise (Pitch Black), including other action films (XXX, The Fast and the Furious) and concluding with his inevitable descent in to B-grade action movie oblivion (Steven Seagal anyone?).

It’s not that he isn’t appealing; it’s just that over the past couple of years he has pumped out a lot of rubbish. Fortunately, Diesel has now changed all that.

Find Me Guilty finds Vin Diesel making the most important film of his life. Not because the film carries any vastly important social meaning that will impact the masses but simply because he has taken a step in the right direction when it comes to his career. He proves with this film that he is a smart performer who can do more than just action fluff.

Find Me Guilty is a court room comedy-drama – in the vain of My Cousin Vinny – that tells the true story of Italian gangster Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) as he defends himself in what would become the longest running trial in U. S. criminal history.

When Jackie is sentenced to 30 years for the possession and dealing of cocaine it soon becomes apparent that his stiff sentence is part of a larger plan to intimidate him into testifying against his fellow members in the Lucchese crime family. Jackie won’t have any of it though and refuses to rat on his “family” in the upcoming trial, which features 20 defendants (each with their own lawyers). Fed up with his lawyer for putting him in this position in the first place Jackie fires him and decides, with only a 6 grade education, to take on the public prosecutor himself.

This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Situated in one room for most of its running time, its appeal lies in the construction of its characters, the way they interact and the anticipation in waiting to hear what Jackie will say next. It’s an outrageous and extremely funny film that if you weren’t told was based on true events you would immediately dismiss as fiction.

Vin diesel – having gained weight and some hair on his scalp – dismisses any claims that he cannot act. The best way I can describe his portrayal of Jackie DiNorscio is loveable. He comes across as a big teddy bear. Sure he deals drugs and has probably murdered a couple of people but his love for his “family” and his skilful street smarts warm the jury’s (and the audience’s) collective heart. Diesel drives the film with his performance and I look forward to seeing him again in less action orientated fare such as this.

Director Sidney Lumet controls the construction of the film superbly and you can clearly see that he is a veteran of the film craft in the performances, shots and various creative decisions he makes.

I can’t understand why Find Me Guilty hasn’t received more positive reviews. Some have claimed that the film is claustrophobic and that falling for the charms of an Italian gangster is not something that should be commended, but I say rubbish! Sure, in real life I would have a different outlook on Jackie but as a film character he is fantastic. Go and see this film; it’s definitely in my top ten for 2006.

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