3 stars (out of four)
For half a century, hot or cool, the trial dramas of director Sidney Lumet have established a clean, gliding visual order even when there's disorder in the court. Prior to "Twelve Angry Men" (1957), Lumet worked in live television, a medium not conducive to a lot of fancy cutting. Now, a half-century later, and a generation after "The Verdict," Lumet is back in court with the minor but well-crafted "Find Me Guilty." He's still going with what works: lengthy, leisurely takes allowing us to take in a lot of prime faces at once. (Spike Lee, he of the relentless "watch me!" technique, could use a little Lumet in his diet.)
Based on the protracted 1986-88 criminal trial of the Lucchese crime family of New Jersey, "Find Me Guilty" stars Vin Diesel--with hair, this time--as "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio, a New Jersey mobster who acted as his own defense attorney. Diesel's action audience won't be breaking down the multiplex doors to see him in a Lumet film, and even a more kinetic movie made on the same topic would have a hard time competing with the new season of "The Sopranos." There is no denying a certain fatigue factor with this particular subject matter. Yet just as the character of DiNorscio wades in over his head and does better than expected, Diesel comes out looking not like a star in the making, perhaps, but like a bankable name honing his craft, learning what he can from his cohorts.
The cohorts have been very well picked. Ron Silver, exquisite in his sarcasm, plays the presiding judge with limited patience for Jackie's stand-up courtroom routines.
Peter Dinklage is an attorney who can't quite believe what he's seeing in Jackie. Alex Rocco portrays crime boss Nick Calabrese, dry as dust but dangerous as a cobra.
And in the movie's standout scene, Annabella Sciorra rips into the cameo role of Jackie's ex-wife. These and other performers bring shading and depth to a workmanlike script, and help take your mind off certain well-worn trappings. (Louis Prima on the soundtrack? Again?).
You can find Lumet and his fellow screenwriters guilty of a few things, among them sentimentalizing a pretty hilarious miscarriage of justice. Jackie never ratted on his pals and associates, and for that, he is treated by the movie with high honor and respect. Lumet the director does not, however, make the mistake of going heavy with an essentially comic subject.
The exception is the meeting between Diesel and Sciorra. The latter knows she has a terrific opportunity at hand (it's her only scene), and she and Lumet make sure we know it too.
The rest of the movie is more of a relaxed trot. But Lumet, who was 80 when he made "Find Me Guilty," has retained a lifetime of technique and sharp instincts regarding how to make a courtroom full of people worth watching.
'Find Me Guilty'
Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Lumet, T.J. Mancini and Robert McCrea; cinematography by Ron Fortunato; production design by Christopher Nowak; music by Jonathan Tunick; edited by Tom Swartwout; produced by Bob Yari, Robert Greenhut, George "Zakk" Vitetzakis, Mancini and Bob DeBrino. A Yari Film Group release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:04. MPAA rating: R (for strong language and some violence).
Giacomo "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio - Vin Diesel
Ben Klandis - Peter Dinklage
Sean Kierney - Linus Roache
Judge Finestein - Ron Silver
Nick Calabrese - Alex Rocco
Bella DiNorscio - Annabella SciorraCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times