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I had the chance to see the movie at the Berlin Film Festival (actually
I saw it twice), and I must say I really loved it. Even during the
second screening I still thought it was interesting and funny.
Granted, I like both Sidney Lumet and Vin Diesel so I may be a bit biased, but the audience in the cinema seemed to like the movie too, because after both screenings they applauded.
The movie is a courtroom drama based on real events. The film depicts the longest Mafia trial in NYC history, and most of the dialog is taken from the original records of the trial. In 1987-88, some 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, each with his own lawyer, were indicted on some 76 charges ranging from criminal conspiracy to narcotics trafficking. The trial went on for 21 months.
The film focuses on Jack DiNorscio, one of the accused mobsters (played by Vin Diesel), who decides to defend himself. Even though he spent half his life in jail he doesn't know much about legal proceedings and mostly speaks what comes into his mind thus sometimes making fun of the whole trial.
Actually I was quite skeptical if Diesel could pull it off. C'mon, we all know him from some more or less mediocre action movies, so when I heard he was cast in a Sidney Lumet movie, I was quite surprised, and therefore even more eager to see him in this film. And yes, he is good. He gained some weight for this role and has hair (a wig), so he looks quite different from what you're used to.
During the Berlinale press conference Sidney Lumet said about Vin Diesel: "People make the great mistake with action heroes. They think that because generally the plots are simpler and their behavior is one-note that they can't act. But most of the time they can." And Diesel shows that he can act. With his charismatic persona he manages to carry the movie pretty easily. He has to talk a lot during the film which comes across very believable and authentic, and he shows a wide range of emotions from happiness to anger to mourning to being embarrassed to whatever.
The overall acting is really good, Linus Roache shines in his role as prosecutor Kierney. Contrary to his "Necromonger" role in "The Chronicles of Riddick" he gets a chance here to really show his talent. The other supporting cast is also really fantastic. I'd like to point out Peter Dinklage as lead defense attorney Ben Klandis, and Annabella Sciorra ("The Sopranos") who is really great in her single scene as DiNorscio's ex-wife. In this scene she goes through all the emotions from anger to frustration to jealousy. The other supporting cast consists of New York theater talent, as well as faces familiar to anyone who watches crime shows on the tube.
The film itself takes place almost entirely in the court room, and sometimes it drags a bit although it is not boring. It depends solely on talking, there is no action whatsoever in the movie. As DiNorscio joked around quite a bit during the trial, the film too is pretty funny in parts, and the audience in the cinema laughed quite a bit.
All in all I recommend this movie. But I have to warn the action fans: you might not like this film as it is a total change in comparison to the movies Vin Diesel has done until now.
I went to a screening in NYC this week, and Vin's performance knocked
the socks off of everyone in attendance.
The physical transformation was astonishing. He gained a lot of weight for this role, and many of the people around me (myself included) did not recognize him when he first appeared on screen. While watching the film, I totally forgot that I was watching Vin Diesel. He really became the character for me.
Annabella Sciorra is another actor I will never look at the same way again. She had exactly one scene in the movie and I thought the screen was going to burst into flames or something. It was really that hot. She and Vin barely touched each other ... didn't even so much as kiss ... and I swear the entire audience needed a cigarette afterward.
The entire cast was first-rate. Every single one of them hit the ball out of the park, no exceptions.
The 2+ hours of running time went by like 15 minutes, and I sincerely did not want the movie to end.
There was a Q&A session after the screening, and Vin was humble, funny, personable and sometimes boyish in his interactions with the audience.
I wasn't a big Vin fan before this movie, but now I can't wait to see him in Hannibal. This guy isn't just an action star ... he's a very talented, dedicated and capable actor.
I just saw this last night in Seattle. What drew me in was Sidney Lumet
and when it started saying that all courtroom dialog was direct from
transcripts of this trial, I sat forward.
This turns out to be a classic New York Lumet film with all the trimmings. Vin does some of his best work to date (and I actually like some of his other films. This is not the all in the head of the writer trick - the transcript is the real heart of the film and so the key is truly bring to life the real words. That's not a simple thing. Lumet has the right balance to make it all work.
For those that would ignore or wait for the DVD, take a chance and see with an audience. You do not get this kind of film from a great director of Lumet's caliber every day.
I had the opportunity to see this movie at the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood last week along with a Q&A with Vin afterward. I have to say I didn't know what to expect after seeing his regular action roles, but I was very impressed. His acting skills have stepped up to the next challenge. Once I got the vision of sexy action star out of my head I was able to concentrate on the character at hand and by the end of the movie I was almost expecting the character to walk in instead of Vin Diesel! I rated this movie a 9 only because it had way more obscene language fillers than it needed. It's a mafia movie we get it. I just don't care to have so much cursing in a movie I think it takes away from the content. Also as a side note I was impressed with the Q&A after, no one can say that Vin is a muscle head. He is an articulate and passionate actor, as well as very humble. I was sitting about three feet from him during the interview and could see his hand twitching nervously as he addressed the small group of actors there. He most certainly has high marks in my book.
I went to a preview screening of this film, so the version I saw may
not make it onto the screen. I was pretty hesitant when I heard that
Mr. Diesel was in it. I have to report that he did justice to the role.
OK, he was no young Al Pacino, but he was certainly better than the old
Al Pacino would be in the role. And Pacino has to be the patron saint
of the film. His performance could have been loud, it could have been
slick, instead he adds surprising depth to an essentially obnoxious
The story isn't surprising, but it does carry a bit of a cultural wallop, and Deisel, using dialog drawn from actual courtroom testimony is able to convey a real sense of outrage over being societal discrimination. It is a testimony to Lumet's direction, that the film never veers into the didactic or preachy.
The real surprise to me was Annabella Sciorra. The print I saw had no credits, so I wasn't expecting her and it took me a bit to place her face. She was electrifying. She truly lit up the screen in her 5 minutes. In an extended dialog with Diesel as her husband, she goes from dispassion, to jealousy, to outrage, to sexual hunger in the most nuanced and natural performance I have seen in a long while. Sciorra is a major talent and needs to get some larger roles, maybe even a few where she isn't the Wife/Fiancée of a N.J. mobster.
When I first heard of Sidney Lumet's unorthodox casting lead for this
film, I was intrigued because Van Diesel's selection was indeed a
daring move. There was little doubt Lumet would err, and he has truly
come up with a sensational film and presented us with an outstanding
turn by Diesel. The film would have worked and been at least a decent
movie because of Lumet's expertise. Getting Diesel to take command of
the screen, channel the spirit of the infamous defendant to ultimately
convince the audience in both the movie and the theater audience that
we were witnessing a rather unique individual.
The success of the film hangs on every single line that Diesel delivers. There is conviction and sincerity in his delivery. Here is a character that has a tarnished background, ultimately finds an outlet for a new perspective in life, and runs with it. Eventually, we get to discover he is a more powerful force than we expected.
Lumet once again shapes the film with his assured hand, allowing the actors to shine in their respective roles, not interfering with dialog that is practically taken from original transcripts by adding over-dramatic touches or unnecessary inspirational music. There are long silences when we are allowed to reflect on what is taking place in front of us. We see a situation change, witness how the players moves are changed because of unexpected twists in the story, and never is the intensity of true emotions and the power of relationships diluted by a false note. There is a superb scene between Diesel and his ex wife, in a great performance by Sciorra that is both incredibly moving and sexy. These are real people with overpowering feelings and passionate exchanges, and it all comes through because of these two performers' chemistry and electrifying delivery.
This is a film that will probably divide its audiences, depending on what you think of the defendant and his connections, but most people will probably agree that a star has been born, and with the support of a masterful director, we can see that he deserves to have a long and fruitful career in front of him. Many people heaped praise on Hoffman not too long ago. I felt Diesel outdid Hoffman because this time the gimmick and the make up felt apart by the soulful approach of a real actor.
I'm sure most of the comments about this movie will center around
Diesel's amazing performance, but I'd like to focus on the overall
quality of this film. From the time the movie gets to the courtroom,
the true beauty of this film shines. Every character from the judge to
the prosecutors were all well casted and their roles well defined and
My one concern is why is it I always leave movies with organized crime themes rooting for or embracing the criminals. Their life style certainly is not most people would wish to emulate but yet most films which portray them don't manage to tap into the conscious citizen in all of us, somehow the writers and producers undermine your sense of right and wrong and render you powerless to pass negative judgement on the criminal.
With that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and welcome feedback on my commetns regarding my rant.
The movie had a really great script; it was funny, dramatic and touching. I was really surprised by Vin Diesel's performance, I wasn't expecting him to pull it off. I think Jackie D himself, his personality and his words helped Vin a lot there. I was also impressed by Raúl Esparza as Tony. I've seen him on Broadway and I have been wowed by his stage performances. I wasn't sure if he could make the transition, but he was the perfect paranoid junkie. The only problems I had with the movie are with tiny details like extras dressed in 2006 fashions and flat screen monitors on desks. Knowing that the trial began in the early 90's, it caught my attention and stuff like the computer monitors shouldn't grab attention. Overall, "Find Me Guilty" is a great movie, and I highly recommend it.
It's amazing to see certain actors working with a director like the
veteran Sidney Lumet (if it's appropriate to use for him who knows,
though this is his latest film, at 81, over a near 50 year career), and
see really intriguing, special things happening on screen. Actors like
Pacino, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Peter Finch among many others
undoubtedly have other noteworthy performances in other films, but in
the work they've done with Lumet there's something that connects just
right, to get that full touch reaching into the character and pulling
out the humanity, or lack thereof. Vin Diesel, in this case, has
possibly his most convincing and on-spot performance to date and, with
the exception of his supporting role in Boiler Room, goes beyond the
typically macho-roles of his career in the past several years. He is a
tough guy in this, true, and Jackie DiNorscio has the life of a
criminal to him. But in the story presented in the film, of this man
defending himself in the longest trial in American history, it's
essential that the actor playing him gets it right with the emotional
connections of the character, of being truthful. Diesel gets that
right, in a performance that has that gangster quality (err, 'gagster'
as DiNorsci refers himself as), but is also has a certain fascinating
complexity that the character of, for example, the prosecuting
attorney, could never have.
Still, Lumet captures this ensemble with enough nuance and well-spun, real dialog, for two movies. It's not at all strange to see him doing a courtroom drama, as it reaches back to his first film 12 Angry Men. This time however there is a difference in the focus on a story lasting three years, and the evidence in the sprawling, elephantine case against the crime families is not as crucial for getting involved in the film as the people who make up the case and courtroom. There are at least a few character actors providing some terrific work, like Ron Silver as the judge, or Peter Dinklage as one of the defense attorneys. And while amid a scene or shot here and there that could've been lost or put on the cutting room floor (it's hard to pinpoint which after a first viewing without notes), there are at least a few that do provide some extra interest that most other filmmakers would've lost. The detail of the one mobster who becomes ill and has to come in every day to court on a stretcher is one thing. Or the detail of the importance of a chair in Jackie's prison cell.
And in this mix there are a few scenes that rank up with being some of the more dramatically perfect scenes Lumet has done, chiefly by letting the actors- who have inhabited the roles to the point of doubtless believability- just do their work. Two that come to mind are when the judge informs Jackie about the death of his mother, and how what Diesel doesn't show to the audience is even more important than what is (I'm reminded of the scene towards the end of Serpico where he gets the badge). Another is when Jackie is questioning his cousin on the stand. The filming of this scene isn't all that complex, but the dynamic between the two characters is, and the right notes are just there between the two actors. By the end of Find Me Guilty, I didn't think I saw an outright masterpiece like some of the director's other films. Neverhtheless, I also knew that I had seen an extremely confident and very good piece of work that brings out what's dependable in Lumet and what's unexpected in an actor like Diesel. Not to mention that, here and there, the film is quite funny. 8.5/10
Great performance by Vin Diesel in here. I always just thought of him
as an actor who did not have the ability to take on a non-action
leading role. Wow did he prove me wrong here. Find Me Guilty was really
a revelation in itself and for Diesel.
The acting like I just said was great from Vin Diesel. Diesel has shown in the past some great supporting performances. With this movie he clearly showed that he can give a real acting performance. The way he displayed his character as a loud mouth, slick talking mafia man was just so genuine and real. He made me laugh every five minutes and still was able to draw me into the movie as a serious character. The supporting performances were nice here to from Peter Dinklage and Alex Rocco.
The directing was very good if not great as well. When it comes to any film involving court Sidney Lumet is the man who should direct it. This is the man who directed 12 Angry Men and The Verdict which are probably the two of the top five court movies ever. This time though he is able to perfectly balance the comedy and drama of this movie to make this film very engaging and exciting to watch. Sidney Lumet once again proves to me at least why he is one of the most creative and best movie directors ever.
The writing was perfect for this movie. In a way the movie was making fun of itself which is always nice to see in these type of comedies. Together with Diesel the writing made for some many laugh-out-loud scenes. Sidney Lumet with his directing and writing really is able to show that a real-life courtroom drama can realistically funny too.
My advice is to definitely watch this movie if you have not. It is not a superficial meaningless movie and believe it or not is a little inspiring. Creativity in movies at its best.
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