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The Verdict (1982)
Frank Galvin is a down-on-his luck lawyer, reduced to drinking and ambulance chasing. Former associate Mickey Morrissey reminds him of his obligations in a medical malpractice suit that he himself served to Galvin on a silver platter: all parties willing to settle out of court. Blundering his way through the preliminaries, he suddenly realizes that perhaps after all the case should go to court: to punish the guilty, to get a decent settlement for his clients, and to restore his standing as a lawyer.
Paul Newman ... Frank Galvin
Charlotte Rampling ... Laura Fischer
Jack Warden ... Mickey Morrissey
James Mason ... Ed Concannon
Milo O\'Shea ... Judge Hoyle
Lindsay Crouse ... Kaitlin Costello
Ed Binns ... Bishop Brophy (as Edward Binns)
Julie Bovasso ... Maureen Rooney
Roxanne Hart ... Sally Doneghy
James Handy ... Kevin Doneghy
Wesley Addy ... Dr. Towler
Joe Seneca ... Dr. Thompson
Lewis J. Stadlen ... Dr. Gruber (as Lewis Stadlen)
\"The Verdict\" is simply one of the best legal dramas ever done. Of course much of what happens in the movie is unrealstic and wouldn\'t happen in a real case but the movie isn\'t a study in courtroom procedure (watch the fantastic \"Anatomy of a Murder\" for that)it is a study about redemption and in that respect it excells.
This movie captures Paul Newman\'s finest screen performance and that alone makes it an important movie. The scenes where Newman hardly says anything show how great an actor he is---his look of self-loathing when he\'s thrown out of the funeral home, his palsied hand and lost look when he\'s trying to drink his whiskey, his panic when Charlotte Rampling lambasts him for being a failure. Then throw into that his terrific courtroom scenes, his arguments with the judge in chambers, it is just a sensational performance all around.
The level of acting is high all around in this movie. James Mason was Oscar nominated for playing the silky smooth, totally corrupt defense attorney. Jack Warden shines as Frank Galvin\'s world-weary former law partner. Lindsey Crouse has a small role as a nurse but is given the most powerful and dramatic moment in the entire movie. Her cross-examination by James Mason is where the movie really shines and shows that Paul Newman can keep his ego in check. How many movies give the most powerful and dramatic moment of the film to one of the secondary players? How many lead actors would be willing to just sit there quiet in a chair while a bit player and the second male lead share the big moment? It was a bold decision by both Newman, director Sidney Lumet and writer David Mamet and it is unforgettable.
The movie shows the two extremes of the practice of law. James Mason\'s win-at-all-costs cheating and Paul Newman getting so emotionally wrapped up in the case that he is no longer protecting his client\'s interests and instead is out to settle his own personal scores. A great, great movie.
The title of this movie is deceiving. THE VERDICT suggests a courtroom drama, something like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or INHERIT THE WIND. It does have some riveting court scenes, but what happens outside of court and to Paul Newman is the real attraction here. The title not only refers to the inevitable decision of the important case of the film, but also to how the Newman character is going to live the rest of his life. Should he sell out and take the easy settlement, or take the highly regarded archdiocese of Boston to court for real justice. These are the questions Newman must face in this profound drama that seems more like a picture of the 70\'s than an 80\'s film.
Director Sidney Lumet has dealt with the legal system before in his first film, 12 ANGRY MEN. He takes it to a more personal level and Paul Newman, one of the finest actors of the past 40 years, is the person to do it. He is a legend and he bares his soul as attorney Frank Galvin, a lonely, corrupt drunk whose license to practice law is hanging by a thread. Jack Warden plays his trusty assistant who gets him a case that could help Frank change his life. Warden, however, has had enough.
Newman plays an excellent drunk, even cracking an egg into an 8am beer to start his day. This is a dim looking movie, shot during a cold winter in Boston. There are no great shots, or even any emotionally-rousing speeches, but this is Lumet\'s style. It is plodding and we see into the life of a lawyer on the ropes. James Mason is perfect as the slimy defense lawyer. Newman is constantly underestimated because of past failures. He is a drunk, but he still has some tricks up his sleeve.
NOTE: Look closely at the closing argument given by Newman. In the background, you can glimpse a then-unknown Bruce Willis.
This one really isn\'t to be missed, certainly among the best of the courtroom dramas.
The acting. Well, first of all, nobody is bad. The most nearly negligible performance is by Wesley Addy, who at least looks the part of the elegant doctor and who is a competent actor. The other principals are outstanding. Charlotte Rampling with that odd face -- sultriness imposed kicking and screaming upon boniness -- is unusually good and even manages to project a kind of believable guilty remorse, which has never been her strong suit. James Mason is (almost)unflappable as Concannon, attorney for the defense. Marvelous, the way he puts quotation marks around the word \"expert\" while questioning the plaintiff\'s witness. Edward Binns is stolid as the savvy but moral bishop who wants to wrap things up without making waves. \"What is the truth?\", he asks Newman. Jack Warden is plumply likable, as always. He\'s seems to have aged more than Binns, with whom he\'d worked a quarter of a century earlier in \"Twelve Angry Men.\" Lindsay Crouse in a small but crucial role is appealingly Irish. Milo O\'Shea is sliminess itself. I don\'t know why, perhaps his impish accent, but there is always something amusing about him, as if unable to quite shake what Erving Goffman called \"role distance,\" the knowledge that he\'s playing a part accompanied by an awareness of the absurdity of doing so. Even Bruce Willis is in this, playing a visitor to the courtroom. I was an atmosphere person in a Boston courtroom too, in \"From the Hip\" -- a far superior movie. (Ask anybody.) And Paul Newman is flawless. Robert Redford was supposed to play Frankie Galvin, but he wouldn\'t have been up to the part. The role requires the compelling anguish that Newman brings to it, and he does it perfectly. Redford is much too cool for that. I will mention just one scene of Newman\'s that is emblematic. He stands in his darkened office -- Warden watching soundlessly from the background -- and calls the defendants\' law firm about a settlement they have already withdrawn. He paces around talking into the phone, hardly able to breathe, congested with not just mucous but self hatred, cajoling them, pounding on the desk with his knuckles, filled with an empty bravado. Redford couldn\'t do it. Practically nobody could do it.
Almost everything fits together perfectly in this film. Sidney Lumet opens with a shot of Newman alone in silhouette playing a pinball machine in a Boston bar, drinking beer. The pinball game serves as a token for the trajectory of his life during the course of the film. Wardrobe: first-rate. How \"New England.\" Multi-layered dark clothing, (in Newman\'s case black), woolly and fussy. Sound: excellent. Little noises, hardly noticeable, form almost a background score. The old wooden floors creak when people step on them. An example of one or two good creaks: the scene in Concannon\'s office when he is welcoming Laura back to the law. Twirled-up telephone lines squeak when someone pulls on them. The tinkling of ice cubes in liquor glasses. The heavy breathing of nervous or defeated people. The slamming of ancient desk drawers. Garbage trucks whining in the city streets at dawn. Production design: as good as it gets. Everything looks old, as if it has been used and lived in for years, not shabby but burnished with age, all mahogany wood and scarlet carpets. Lighting and photography: up there with the best. Most scenes are dark -- it\'s midwinter in Boston -- but not too dark, cleverly lighted. The snow in the streets is literally blue, as if it had just leaped out of an impressionist landscape. Tree branches glisten with moisture on slick night-time streets. Tinsel draped along a bar ceiling twinkles with fraudulent joy.
The weakness? The movie is so good I hate to mention it, but the script leaves something to be desired. It almost betrays the characters. I don\'t mind the legal absurdities so much. Okay, so things would never really happen this way. The judge would have to grant a continuance and so forth. It\'s not so much that as the motivation and the set speeches that are bothersome, especially Newman\'s, and they\'re critical. The banter and small talk are fine. Mamet\'s small talk is almost always fine. But Newman\'s conversion from a drunken, cynical ambulance chaser to a principled attorney of reawakened morals in the course of two-minute photo session with a comatose patient is patently unbelievable. Where did all that conscience (if that\'s what it is?) suddenly come from? He flops backwards as if stunned. Why? The script does its best to back up his epiphany. The images of his patient develop as a real person, not just a dollar sign, on the Polaroid photos, a mirror image of what\'s going on in his mind. But as Warden repeatedly points out, his job is to win some money for his clients so they can leave their comatose sister in good care and get on with their lives in Tucson. Instead he turns down the church\'s offer because he sees a trial as a challenge to his personal pride, as a \"means of redemption\". (Is that kind of pride a mortal or a venial sin?) He loses sight of what the whole legal process is about because of this self-involvement. It wouldn\'t be so bad if he realized this, if he found himself in conflict, but in fact he never gives it a thought. Finally, Newman\'s summation: it sounds as if it had been put together by some high school kid whose homework assignment was to write an essay (of at least two hundred words) about \"what life means to me.\" \"I believe there is justice in our hearts,\" says Newman, more to himself than to the jury. No kidding.
None of this criticism can subtract from all the other virtues of the film. It\'s among the best of its kind.
* Robert Redford was originally involved with this film. After writer David Mamet delivered his draft, Redford was uncomfortable with the main character and hired another writer to do another draft, and so on until Redford decided he didn\'t want to do the film. He was uncomfortable because he did not want to play an alcoholic. Sidney Lumet was offered the project. He read all the drafts and identified the original Mamet version as the one to make. At that point, Paul Newman agreed to star.
* Among the people in the courtroom during the dramatic closing speech is a young Bruce Willis.
* David Mamet\'s draft was rejected at first because he refused to put the outcome of the verdict into the script. It was director Sidney Lumet who convinced him to alter his ending.
* After the verdict was announced in the film, director Sidney Lumet filmed two versions of the ending. In one version, the final shots we see are of Newman\'s character walking away from the courtroom in a series of long shots, never seeing what happens after he leaves the courthouse. In the version that was used, we see a sequence after he leaves the courthouse.
* Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant were all considered for, or wanted, parts in this movie.
* James Bridges was going to write screenplay and direct the film at one point.
* Julie Christie turned down the Charlotte Rampling role
* Two cast members -- Ed Binns and Jack Warden -- played jurors #6 and #7, respectively, in 12 Angry Men (1957), also by Sidney Lumet.
* Among the people in the courtroom during the dramatic closing speech is a young Jerry Seinfeld.