My Cousin Vinny
|My Cousin Vinny|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Lynn|
|Produced by||Dale Launer
|Written by||Dale Launer|
|Music by||Randy Edelman|
|Editing by||Stephen E. Rivkin|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||120 minutes|
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film written by Dale Launer, directed by Jonathan Lynn, and starring Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill and Fred Gwynne. The film was Gwynne's final film appearance before his death on July 2, 1993.
The film deals with two young New Yorkers traveling through rural Alabama who are put on trial for a murder they did not commit, and the comic attempts of a cousin, Vincent Gambini, a newly minted lawyer, to defend them. Much of the humor comes from the contrasting personalities of the brash Italian-American New Yorkers, Vinny and his fiancée Mona Lisa, and the more reserved Southern townspeople.
Lawyers have praised the comedy's realistic depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy. Pesci and Tomei received critical praise for their performances, and Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
While driving through the fictional Beechum County, Alabama, NYU students and friends Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) accidentally shoplift a can of tuna while stopping at a convenience store. After they leave the store, the clerk is shot and killed, and Billy and Stan are arrested in connection with the murder. Due to circumstantial evidence and a series of miscommunications based on the boys' assumption that they have merely been detained for shoplifting, Billy is charged with murder, and Stan is charged as an accessory. The pair call Billy's mother, who tells her son that there is an attorney in the family, "My Cousin Vinny!" (Joe Pesci). Vincent LaGuardia Gambini travels to Beechum County accompanied by his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). Although he is willing to take the case, Vinny is a personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, newly admitted to the bar (after six attempts and six years) with no trial experience. The pair also have trouble with the community, are unable to sleep for several nights, and have a protracted conflict with the bar brawler J.T.
Vinny manages to fool the trial judge, Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne), about being experienced enough to take the case, a game of cat-and-mouse that progresses throughout the film. His ignorance of basic court procedures and dress code, as well as his abrasive and disrespectful attitude towards the judge gets him into trouble immediately. Much to his clients' consternation, Vinny does not cross-examine any of the witnesses in the probable cause hearing. Except for the murder weapon, it appears that the district attorney, Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith) has an airtight case that will inevitably lead to a conviction at the trial. After Vinny's poor showing at the hearing, Stan fires him and uses the public defender, John Gibbons (Austin Pendleton), and nearly convinces Billy to do the same. Vinny wittily asks for one more chance to prove himself.
The trial then opens with Vinny representing his cousin and Gibbons representing Stan. Despite some further missteps, including a gaudy secondhand tuxedo (an improvement on his bike leathers) and sleeping through Trotter's opening statement, Vinny shows that he can make up for his ignorance and inexperience with an aggressive and perceptive questioning style. After the public defender is shown to have a debilitating stammer, Vinny quickly and comprehensively discredits the testimony of the first witness (Maury Chaykin), a rebuttal revolving around grits. Billy's faith is restored, Stan fires the public defender, and Vinny finally gets some sleep while serving his contempt charges in prison.
Vinny's cross-examinations of the remaining two eyewitnesses are similarly effective, but on the trial's third day, Trotter produces a surprise witness, FBI analyst George Wilbur, who testifies that the pattern and chemical analysis of the tire marks left at the crime scene are identical to the tires on Billy's Buick Skylark. With only the lunch recess to prepare his cross-examination and unable to come up with a strong line of questioning, Vinny becomes frustrated and lashes out at Lisa by taunting her about, among other things, the usefulness of her wide-angle photograph of the tire tracks. She storms out of the cafe, apparently breaking their engagement. Shortly after the trial resumes, Vinny realizes that her photo actually holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks going over the curb reveal that Billy's car could not have been used for the getaway, since Billy's Skylark does not have the Positraction rear differential and independent rear suspension needed to make such marks. After requesting a records search from the local sheriff (Bruce McGill), Vinny drags Lisa (they both worked as mechanics in her father's garage) into court to testify as his first witness. During Vinny's questioning, Lisa comes to the same conclusion regarding the tire marks and testifies that the only vehicle that could plausibly make the escape and be mistaken for Billy's 1964 Skylark is a 1963 Pontiac Tempest with the same color and tires. After recalling George Wilbur to confirm this, Vinny recalls the local sheriff, who has the records search. The sheriff testifies that two men resembling Billy and Stan were just arrested in another county for driving a stolen Pontiac Tempest, and were in possession of a gun of the same caliber used to kill the clerk. The defeated Trotter moves to dismiss all the charges.
The film concludes with Haller apologizing for doubting Vinny and praising his skills as a litigator. Vinny cheerfully calls Haller "one hell of a judge" and also shakes hands with Trotter, by then a hunting buddy. Vinny and Lisa then drive off together, bickering about their future wedding plans.
- Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini
- Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito
- Ralph Macchio as Bill Gambini
- Mitchell Whitfield as Stan Rothenstein
- Fred Gwynne as Judge Chamberlain Haller
- Lane Smith as Jim Trotter III
- Bruce McGill as Sheriff Dean Farley
- Austin Pendleton as John Gibbons
- Chris Ellis as J.T.
- James Rebhorn as George Wilbur
- Maury Chaykin as Sam Tipton
- Paulene Myers as Constance Riley
- Raynor Scheine as Ernie Crane
- Michael Simpson as Neckbrace
- Lou Walker as Grits Cook
- Kenny Jones as Jimmy Willis
The film received general critical acclaim, holding a score of 86% with 32 positive reviews out of 37 on Rotten Tomatoes. With a budget of $11 million, My Cousin Vinny was more successful than any had anticipated, grossing $52,929,168 domestically and $11,159,384 in the foreign markets, bringing its overall total to $64,088,552. Marisa Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 65th Academy Awards in 1993. The film's screenwriter Dale Launer wrote a sequel; while Pesci was interested in filming it, Tomei was not.
Director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, and lawyers have praised the accuracy of My Cousin Vinny's depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy, with one stating that "[t]he movie is close to reality even in its details. Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial". One legal textbook uses the film as an "extremely helpful introduction to the art of presenting expert witnesses at trial", and criminal defenders, law professors, and other lawyers use the film to demonstrate voir dire and cross examination. A professor described My Cousin Vinny as useful for discussing
criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy
The professor added that, in addition, "Vinny is terrible at the things we do teach in law school, but very good at the things we don't":
[How to] interview clients, to gather facts, to prepare a theory of a case, to negotiate, to know when to ask a question and when to remain quiet, to cross examine a witness forcefully (but with charm) in order to expose the weaknesses in their testimony
United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has cited My Cousin Vinny as an example of the principle that a client can choose his own lawyer. The authors of Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (2006) gave the film its highest rating along with several films based on real trials, such as Judgement at Nuremberg and Breaker Morant. In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film #3 on its list of the "25 Greatest Legal Movies", and in 2010 ranked Pesci's character as #12 on its list of "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)".
Lynn, an opponent of capital punishment, believes that the film expresses an anti-death penalty message without "preaching to people", and demonstrates the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Lawyers find the film appealing, according to the director, because "there aren't any bad guys", with the judge, prosecutor, and Vinny all seeking justice. Lynn stated that both he and Launer sought to accurately depict the legal process in Vinny, favorably comparing it to Trial and Error, for which he could not make what he believed were necessary changes.
Pesci later reprised the Vincent LaGuardia Gambini character for his album, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song "Yo, Cousin Vinny." The album cover portrays Pesci in a red suit similar to the usher suit he wore in the film.
- Farr, Nick (2012-03-13). "Abnormal Interviews: My Cousin Vinny Director Jonathan Lynn". Abnormal Use: An Unreasonably Dangerous Products Liability Blog. Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A. Retrieved June 08, 2012.
- Fox, David J. (1992-05-12). "Weekend Box Office 'Player,' 'Vinny' Show Strength". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-27.
- Brust, Richard (2008-08-01). "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies". ABA Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- "Long Bio of Dale Launer". dalelauner.com. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Tooher, Nora Lockwood (2006-07-31). "The verdict is in: 'My Cousin Vinny' still the winner among criminal defense lawyers". Lawyers USA. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Kennerly, Max (2012-03-14). "Every Young Trial Lawyer Needs To Watch My Cousin Vinny". Litigation & Trial. Retrieved February 03, 2013.
- Smith, Fred Chris; Bace, Rebecca Gurley (2003). Guide to Forensic Testimony, A: The Art and Practice of Presenting Testimony As An Expert Technical Witness. Addison-Wesley. pp. 1, 4–13. ISBN 9780201752793.
- Bernabe, Alberto (2013-03-12). "My Cousin Vinny: a story about legal education". Torts Blog. Retrieved February 03, 2013.
- "Supreme Court Justices Mull 'My Cousin Vinny'". Fox News. Associated Press. 2006-04-18. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Turner, George (1996-11-01). "Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (review)". American Cinematographer. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
- "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)". ABA Journal. 2010-08. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
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- My Cousin Vinny at the Internet Movie Database
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- My Cousin Vinny at Box Office Mojo
- My Cousin Vinny at Rotten Tomatoes
- Transcript of the trial proceedings