The galvanizing return of The Sopranos, with the series’ authoritative grasp of ethics and consequence, doesn’t do any favors for Find Me Guilty, a sharp-looking Mob drama with a gooey moral center. Based on the real-life testimony of Giacomo ”Jackie Dee” DiNorscio, a member of New Jersey’s Lucchese crime family facing a 30-year sentence, the movie is a shorthand version of what became the longest criminal trial in U.S. history: For 21 months during 1987?88, 20 Lucchese associates were tried on 76 different charges. Each wiseguy had his own defense attorney — all except DiNorscio, who represented himself.
As Vin Diesel plays him in a likable, image-adjusting turn — prosthetically fat, thick of Jersey accent — Jackie (who died in 2004) was about as sweet as a career criminal can be; he was also a showman, a comedian, a doozy. And the fact that he refused to rat on his family is admired — with irksomely naive neutrality — as its own form of nobility.
Never mind that Find Me Guilty is directed by that great, 81-year-old chronicler of urban law and disorder, Sidney Lumet. Diesel’s DiNorscio is styled as an untouchably charismatic mook in the softy script by T.J. Mancini and Robert McCrea, which can’t decide whether to smile or laugh outright at the government’s efforts to break the power of organized crime. As a result, the rest of the players — a great clutch of guys, including Peter Dinklage as a precise and persuasive lawyer, Linus Roache as an obsessed federal prosecutor, and Ron Silver as the judge — are never granted a fair day in court.