Judge Jim Thomas is not a real film critic, but he plays one on TV.
Frank Galvin has one last chance at a big case.
1982 was a banner year for the Academy's Best Actor awards. Ben Kingsley, Gandhi. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie. Jack Lemmon, Missing. Peter O'Toole, My Favorite Year. And Paul Newman, The Verdict. Kingsley won, but many people feel Newman was robbed, and they may be right.
Facts of the Case
Frank Galvin (Paul Newman, The Sting) was a promising young Boston attorney until an accusation of jury tampering destroyed his career and his life. Now he's a dissolute alcoholic, reduced to handing out business cards at funeral homes. His best friend, Mickey Morrisey (Jack Warden, Heaven Can Wait) has been tossing easy cases his way, cases in which all Frank has to do is take the settlement and cash the check. Somehow Frank has managed to screw all of them up, except for one—a young mother left comatose after being administered the wrong anesthetic during a routine surgery.
Figuring the easiest thing to do is just make the case go away, the hospital and the Boston archdiocese (it's a Catholic hospital) make a generous settlement offer. But after going to visit his client, Frank can't take the money. Against all logic, against all advice, against all odds, Frank is going to go up against the Catholic Church and one of Boston's most renowned trial lawyers, Ed Concannon (James Mason, North by Northwest).
I first saw The Verdict about 20 years ago on TNT. My initial response was "Cool! Paul Newman's playing pinball," but even before the opening credits finished, I was drawn into the bleak landscape of Galvin's psyche. He's utterly broken, reaching for a full shot glass, his hands shaking so badly he must lean over and slurp some liquor out before picking it up. Yet, in the depths of all this, a vestige of humanity remains, a dim ember that regains its glow when Newman looks at his comatose client. From that moment on, he starts to drag himself away from the brink in a slow progression that makes the movie so engaging. Galvin, who hasn't tried a case in years, is fumbling, unsure of what to say or do, tripping over his words while selecting a jury. When his star witness disappears, Galvin has a full-blown anxiety attack. But as his confidence returns, so does his poise. Even when things don't go his way, Galvin doesn't get flustered.
This is a marvelously nuanced performance by Newman, easily one of his career best, and far better than The Color of Money's Fast Eddie (who travels a similar road to redemption), a role that finally earned him an Oscar. Newman is aided and abetted by other great performances, particularly those of James Mason and Jack Warden, and even smaller roles such as Milo O'Shea as a judge who might be a bit too sympathetic to the defendants, and Charlotte Rampling as a love interest who might be as broken as Frank.
The Verdict also stands out for its restrained yet effective camerawork. Sidney Lumet (Network) isn't a particularly flashy director. Instead, he figures out what he visually wants to communicate with a scene, places the camera in the right spot, and then turns his actors loose. In a scene where Concannon sets out the strategy to his team, we get an angled overhead establishing shot that holds every team member in frame, so we can appreciate the forces arrayed against Galvin. No pans across the table, just a simple long shot. In the next scene, we get an establishing shot in a law library. Galvin and Morrisey are in the left foreground, with a vast emptiness in the background. A great way to visually underscore the degree to which Galvin is outmanned.
On the down side, the script teeters on the edge of melodrama. Actually, it crosses the line on several occasions, but in each instance the situation is saved by the performance. Lumet mentions in his commentary that Newman manages to sell unsellable dialogue on a couple of occasions. And while Charlotte Rampling does a fine job with what she's given, her character is a bit underwritten. For instance, she has an line that works great in the moment—"I can't invest in failure"—but hard to reconcile with what we eventually discover about her.
Technically, Fox's Blu-ray is nothing to get excited about. The 1.85:1 MPEG-4 AVC encoded HD transfer is a definite improvement over 2007's Collector's Edition DVD, but hardly dramatic. Lumet uses a lot of chiaroscuro lighting, and the deep shadows suffer from back crush. Colors, particularly flesh tones, are inconsistent. On the other hand, there is a strong level of detail in most of the closeups. The wonderfully clear DTS-HD Master Audio track fares much better. We are able to choose between a 5.1 remix and the original mono, though the nature of the film makes the difference miniscule.
Bonus features are ported over from the earlier DVD release. Fortunately, it's a good package, the highlight being Lumet's engaging, informative, and somewhat refreshing commentary. He spends a lot of time praising the work of everyone else, rather than tooting his own horn, repeatedly coming back to Mamet's script, breaking down scenes and explaining how Mamet structured them. It's a welcome change from commentaries in which directors spends the majority of the time inventing with new ways to pat themselves on the back. Even Newman himself pops in towards the end, but says virtually nothing.
In many ways, The Verdict reminds me of Presumed Innocent, a somewhat melodramatic courtroom drama elevated by strong direction and excellent performances across the board. The film is summarily acquitted, but the court suggests Fox put a little more effort into these catalog releases.
Heh. The Verdict on The Verdict? Not Guilty.
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