Dir/scr: Sidney Lumet. US. 2006. 123mins.
Now in his eighties, veteran director Sidney Lumet shows no signs of slowing down - and mob courtroomdrama Find Me Guilty proves that hehas lost none of his ability to turn out a slick, well- crafted product.
But it's a product that,like many of the director's films from the 1980s onwards, comes across as agood made-for-TV fare rather than a great piece of cinema.
Its theatrical prospectsrest squarely on the shoulders of Vin Diesel, whosewarm, nuanced performance as vile but simpatico mobster Jackie Di Norscio will surprise many ofthose who think of him simply as an action hunk.
However, Diesel's enjoyableturn does not quite compensate for the lack of dramatic tension in thisrambling account of the longest criminal trial in US history. Audiences willreturn an open verdict both domestically and internationally.
The script, originallydeveloped by producer TJ Mancini on the basis of a series of prison interviewswith Di Norscio, cutsthrough the legal complexities of a trial that lasted almost two years and sawno less than 20 members of the Lucchese crime familyin the dock, each with his own lawyer.
It does so by focusing on Di Norscio, the joker in thepack, who - with little to lose, given that he was already serving a 30-yearsentence on drug charges - chose to defend himself.
Defining himself as "agagster, not a gangster", Di Norscioturned his court appearances into stand-up comedy routines. Diesel plays him asa dim but likeable New Jersey mobster with a moral code that consists of onetenet: loyalty to one's brothers in crime.
Genuinely funny at times,cloyingly attention-seeking at others, Di Norscio's courtroom performances - and a single, powerfulscene with his estranged wife Bella (Sciorra) -expose the film's central ethical dilemma without ever really resolving it: whyshould we invest so much sympathy in a character who has so little to recommendhim other than the sheer force of charm'
Eddies of conflict are setup by giving Di Norscio twomain antagonists. Linus Roacheplays the driven, messianical public prosecutor whoseearly statement that he's "never lost a case" flags the ending for those in theaudience who do not remember how the real trial (1987-8) wrapped.
Alex Rocco is NickCalabrese, the Lucchese family boss whose hostilityto Di Norscio is asimplacable as the latter's determination not to turn traitor.
But these are staticobstacles to a static hero whose moral trajectory is as flat as a corpse'sheart monitor, with the exception, perhaps, of the distant, glimmeringapprehension that he was not as nice to his wife as he might have been.
The old-fashioned feel isemphasised by conventional photography that celebrates HD's capacity forblandness, and timeless costume design, the double-breasted suit worn by Dieselharking back to an earlier age of mob pictures.
Yari Film Group
Three Wolves Production
Syndicate Films International
George 'Zakk' Vietkakis