FIND ME GUILTY
by Judge J. Howard Sundermann
This film is about the longest trial in American history. It
was the criminal trial of the Lucchese family of New Jersey,
there were twenty defendants and the trial lasted twenty-one
months. There is no star studded cast; the lead is Vin Diesel,
known for stupid action films and even stupider comedies playing
off his tough guy persona. But in the skilled hands of director
Sidney Lumet, he is terrific in this part. Lumet has a distinguished
career including such courtroom classics as 12 Angry Men
and The Verdict. These films were a search for justice
and justice ultimately triumphs, in Find Me Guilty we
see the process but not any triumph of justice.
Even though this
is a "mob" movie, there is only one brief scene of
violence at the beginning; almost all of the screen time is the
trial itself. Much of the dialogue comes right from the transcript
of the trial. The Diesel character plays one of the twenty defendants
and decides to defend himself pro se. All of the other defendants
are represented, the smartest of the defense lawyers is a dwarf,
and a podium with stairs is tastefully wheeled out for him whenever
he addresses the jury. The other defense attorneys are presented
as generally indistinguishable from their disreputable clients.
The Diesel character is supposed to represent common sense and
getting to the heart of the matter rather than all the legalese
and complex testimony that took up most of the twenty-one months.
Diesel charms the jury in his cross-examination of witnesses
and tests the legal maxim that "a laughing jury is not a
The Diesel character is not easy to root for. He was clearly
a soldier for the mob, engaged in all manor of crimes and violence.
He is steadfastly loyal to his "family", turning down
a plea bargain saying "I don't rat on my friends."
His cousin shot him while he was in bed but Diesel refused to
identify his cousin as the shooter saying my eyes were closed
the whole time. Are we supposed to admire this misplaced loyalty
and adherence to the code of Omerta? All of the defendants,
including Diesel, seem clearly guilty of the charges, but we
as viewers are charmed and amused as well as the jury. But will
this be enough to get a not guilty verdict; it will cost you
$8.00 to find out.
The lead prosecutor is portrayed as an all too typical movie
prosecutor, arrogant and egotistical, ordering everyone around.
But he is competent and fanatic about getting a conviction in
this case. Diesel's cross-examinations revel some latent anti-Italian
views on the part of some of the federal witnesses. He asks
an FBI agent how he knew a group he observed were Italians, the
answer described black hair, loud talk and waving hands. The
film exposes the needless complexity and length of such a trial
and the difficulty that our judicial and jury system have in
dealing with it.
The judge is well played by Ron Silver; he tries his best to
keep things moving and to avoid a mistrial. He is annoyed by
the Diesel character, but becomes more tolerant, even sympathetic,
as the trial proceeds. The usual cinematic license is exercised
with the judge. There are numerous ex-parte conferences, one
with only the judge and Diesel, and the judge is shown to have
a full bar on display in chambers with the liquor in crystal
This film has its defects, but it is very good. I'm afraid it
will not be in theaters long as it does not have much action
or sex, but the film is well worth seeing, Lumet has not lost
his courtroom touch.
Posted March 10, 2006