The true story of the longest criminal trial in U.S. history is told through the eyes of one defendant "Jackie Dee" DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) who ends up representing himself while 19 other members of the notorious Lucchese crime network is being tried around him. Jackie brings a much-needed air of brash simpatico to the courtroom as he describes how his cousin walked into his bedroom and shot him four times and a fellow defendant collapses and remains in a hospital bed for the duration of the trail. As he tries to mend relations with his wife and kids and attempts his own brand of lawyering Jackie turns the court into a stage as if he's testing a stand-up comedy routine. Yeah Vin proves he's a better actor than The Rock but somehow playing a low-class goomba doesn't seem all that hard for him. Diesel is practically unrecognizable with a partial toupee showing a thinning hairline and of course there’s the few pounds he put on for the part. Peter Dinklage who got noticed after The Station Agent plays one of the defense attorneys who needs to have a heightened podium set up every time he talks to the jury. He and Ron Silver as the judge play their roles with tongue-in-cheek humor as well as necessary bravado. However the rest of the mob looks like they came from the Sopranos casting rejects and Linus Roache (Priest) who's normally a fine actor is way over-the-top with his tirades as the prosecutor. How could a visionary master like Sidney Lumet think that this protracted courtroom drama could be interesting for more than two hours? Courtroom dramas are usually rather tedious but this is the guy who brought us 12 Angry Men a few decades ago so you think he’d know how to make the legal process appear interesting on film. But he misses it with Guilty. When Diesel's character addresses the jury his sincere charm seems to captivate the jury and it translates to the audience but then we're shown Jackie's seedier side too. Much of the dialogue is taken from actual court transcripts and most of the film is shot in one room--much like 12 Angry Men--but the conflict and the drama doesn't seem to carry through the whole movie.
Based on his popular novella of the same name Martin takes the non-comedic role in a painfully awkward love triangle. It starts with Mirabelle (Claire Danes) whose stands behind the purse counter of an upscale Beverly Hills department store waiting for something to happen. Then along comes a wealthy handsome older gentleman named Ray Porter (Martin) who her sweeps her off her feet with restrained charm and lavish gifts. Meanwhile an inept suitor Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman) tries winning Mirabelle's attention but ends up asking her to pay for him on their date. Shopgirl is another loving postcard by Martin to the City of Angeles but let’s hope people in L.A. have more exciting romances than he shows here. Shopgirl got a tepid response at the Toronto International Film Festival. The faux-praise at the after-party for the actors seemed as forced as some of the L.A. kiss-and-schmooze events depicted in this film. Schwartzman can easily come across irritating instead of funny. Thankfully in Shopgirl he transcends his irritating personality and turns charming. But he’s just not as funny as Martin and when he tries the deadpan humor Martin is so famous for it falls rather flat. Martin has proven he can be great in a drama--The Spanish Prisoner is a fine example. But he excels in comedy and unfortunately he doesn't show much of it here. And as far as our leading lady is concerned she's just as bland as a piece of toast in this. It's obvious that British filmmaker Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) is an outsider to L.A.. His fascination with the mundane details of the city makes the whole film seem a bit European. Maybe that's good. Maybe that's why Volcano was misunderstood because it really was a comedy told through the eyes of a Brit. Maybe that's why Venice/Venice so oddly juxtaposed the romantic Italian city with the tacky L.A. boardwalk. Maybe ultimately that's why Shopgirl is such a bore at times with scenes of Danes standing behind a counter looking at her watch and waiting for something to happen. I identified with her because I was doing the same thing.