Gag Order: Lumet's Old-School Courtroom Farce

It's startling to think that Sidney Lumet has brought courtrooms to cinemas for nearly 50 years, from 12 Angry Men (1957) to The Verdict (1982) to Night Falls on Manhattan (1997). But Find Me Guilty is his first legal picture to shoot for full-out farce—and not incidentally, the first to take up the case for an unlikable defense: The underdog hero is Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel), an associate of New Jersey's Lucchese family who, in a real late-'80s mob conspiracy trial that lasted 21 months, chose to represent himself, the only one of 20 defendants to do so. And while Jackie's clowning around before the judge (Ron Silver) hews strictly to sub– My Cousin Vinny standards, his too- personal questioning of witnesses comes from a deep-seated belief that ratting on friends is wrong—a code of honor as passionately followed as the one that governed Frank Serpico. (That said, Lumet's Serpico has bigger laughs.) Find Me Guilty is overlong and often sitcomy, but it's also pleasantly old-school, with a tone, soundtrack, and even a title-card font that suggest a mellow but not senile Woody Allen. Diesel mugs too hard, but his comedic inexperience dovetails with his character's ignorance of ordinary judicial procedure. There's no reason to feel guilty about finding him funny.

 
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