"It’s like a kinder, happier “Judgment at Nuremberg.”"
The primary setting of “Find Me Guilty,” Sidney Lumet’s newest character drama, is a large room crammed full of criminal defense lawyers and mobsters. No, it’s not the waiting room to hell, but a courtroom where 21 members of the Lucchesi crime family are on trial for a myriad of charges including extortion, racketeering and drug trafficking. The characters are well fleshed out, the pacing is smart, and the story is compelling. There’s only one problem, and it’s a biggie: The film is a celebration of the mob and the people who defended them.The film documents the events that occurred in 1986, when the federal government attempted a massive prosecution of 21 alleged mobsters who were, we can be relatively certain, actively involved in organized crime in northern New Jersey. The government’s witnesses were mostly criminals receiving clemency in exchange for their testimony.
The film follows Jackie “Fat Jack” Dinorsio (Vin Diesel) a lovable racketeer and drug trafficker who chooses to represent himself in the trial. Diesel makes Dinorsio very likeable and, with this role, he finally breaks out of his tough guy persona and tries something new.
Dinorsio is portrayed as a smiling, gentle mobster who’s fiercely loyal. He cares more about what happens to his friends than to himself. He refuses to rat out anyone, even when the prison guards work him over. He’s uneducated and simple, but he’s a sweetheart and a mensch.
In contrast, prosecutor Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) is a heartless bastard. He makes deals to try to get mobsters to rat out their friends. He orders Dinorsio’s comfy chair (Dinorsio’s only luxury) removed from his prison cell. Keirney breaks into unstable fits of rage sweeping objects off tables and screaming suddenly and violently.
In short, he ranks in charisma and depth just below Principal Rooney from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and just above sleazeball EPA guy, Walter Peck from “Ghostbusters.”
By contrast to the government prosecutors, the defendants in “Find Me Guilty” are the types of mobsters you would take home to Grandma. Scenes of mob violence are rare to nonexistent. (Granted, the film begins with Dinorsio being shot by his cousin, but that assassination attempt is more drug induced than mob sanctioned.)
Dinorsio isn’t the only gangster that’s whitewashed. The other mobsters are portrayed as sweet men who all pull together under Dinorsio’s gentle guidance. These guys bear more resemblance to George Bailey’s friends and family than to any real gangsters.So why did acclaimed director Sidney Lumet choose to take on a movie that glorifies the mob? Who knows? Perhaps he thought it would be a cute subject: a mobster who defends himself. Maybe he was enchanted with the idea of using actual transcripts from the trial as the screenplay. I just hope this movie's creation wasn’t due to any gambling debts or past nefarious dealings. I’d like to think Mr. Lumet is better than that.