Find Me Guilty
Sidney Lumet has a long and distinguished career in courtroom drama, among many other genres, going all the way back to the classic 12 Angry Men. This one is about the longest criminal trial in US history, at least up until then, and most of the dialogue is taken from actual court transcripts. Twenty defendants, 70-some charges. All mobbed up pieces of shit from New Jersey. One of them is Jackie Dee. His entire philosophy of life can be summed up like this: “Don’t tell nobody nothing, never.” Family is his entire universe. And he’s true to his creed. He’s already serving a 30-year kick for cocaine sales, has a chance to reduce it to time served and walk on this new charge. He never even considers it. And he decides to act as his own attorney, which throws a mostly comic monkey wrench into the proceedings, which are already a zoo.
The movie is rather shapeless, and throws us some moral conundrums … and frankly, I felt it was quite a bit too sympathetic to this scumbag. If family is your entire universe, the corollary is that all the rest of us—you and me, my friends—are not even shit on his shoes. We don’t exist except as objects to exploit and/or kill, as the need or even the mood strikes them. This is the man-eating toad behind the romantic image of mafias of any ethnicity. It should be legal to shoot them on sight.
But we live in a society of laws, don’t we? Only some of the laws (more and more every day) are so broad that virtually any act can be seen as illegal. I was glad to see so much of this human garbage locked up when RICO first came around as a weapon against organized crime … but by now I’m far from sure it was a good idea. Rest assured, my fellow goombahs, they could throw you in jail under RICO. You have done something in your life that they could trump up into a conspiracy. All they need is the desire to do you, and you’re fucking done, paisan. If you are small potatoes, like me, like most of us, if you would not be a feather in a prosecutor’s cap, then you’re probably okay … as long as you keep your head down and your mouth shut. Which is the state that all governments aspire to for their citizenry, and this current one more than any other before it.
Enough. Vin Diesel is very good here. He strikes the perfect balance as, in his words, “A gagster, not a gangster.” I’m almost ready to forgive him for The Pacifier. I imagine he’ll stick with the mindless action pictures because there’s so much money in them, but believe me, the man can act. And in a bit of casting genius, Peter Dinklage plays the chief defense attorney. We heard him interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air,” and so I know he wasn’t picked because he’s a dwarf, the part wasn’t written that way, but simply because he’s good. And he is. After his breakthrough role in The Station Agent, he’s been in demand, and he deserves it. I see he has no less than 8 upcoming projects.