The Verdict Review


Simply put, The Verdict features the finest work in the long, impressive career of Paul Newman. What he accomplishes in Sidney Lumet’s 1982 courtroom drama is stunning. He plays a lawyer who carries a massive chip on his shoulder, and the results of the case he undertakes will determine whether or not he can pull himself out of the alcohol-filled abyss he finds himself in. He’s not the most charismatic man—not by a long shot. But we really want him to succeed, to salvage himself, and to give his clients the justice they deserve.

The case Frank Galvin (Newman) accepts is a tricky one, though it doesn’t have to be. A Boston woman turns into a vegetable after an oversight in the operating room. Her family thinks the Catholic hospital and the doctors on duty should be held responsible, and the hospital itself recognizes its error, offering a big check to keep the case out of court. But Frank can’t accept. Not only does he think the plaintiffs deserve more, but he needs to renew his faith in the legal system and himself. After rejecting the offer, however, Frank begins to think he’s made a big mistake. The woman’s family is furious with him, the opposing attorney (James Mason) is a shark, and his colleague (Jack Warden) doubts Frank’s instincts and doesn’t think he can stay sober long enough to get through the trial.

While there’s no denying that Newman is the main attraction here, the film has a lot of other things going for it. Sidney Lumet’s direction is as assured as ever. The pacing is deliberately slow, which takes it out the thriller category so many legal films fall into. Another thing I noticed is that there’s virtually no non-diegetic sound, which I thought really helped me stay involved in the plot and the characters. It’s a risky choice because music does a lot of the heavy emotional lifting for many films, but The Verdict loses nothing without it. In fact, leaving it out probably makes the film better.

I’ve spoken to Newman’s brilliance already, but seriously, the guy conveys more emotion and meaning with a simple glance than most actors can in an entire movie. Really take in the scene in which he visits his comatose client in the hospital and decides to take the case to trial. Not a word is spoken—all you hear is the rhythmic sound of a breathing machine—yet it’s at that moment that our lead character makes a life-altering choice, and we totally believe it.

I definitely wouldn’t say Newman’s work is matched by that of his supporting cast, but there are many good performances to be found in the film. Charlotte Rampling plays Laura Fischer, Frank’s new girlfriend who helps him through his pre-trial lows. Her subplot felt a little underdeveloped for a while, but late in the film, she breaks out. The film’s other attorneys, played by Mason and Warden, are also quite good. Mason has a juicier role as a truly conniving lawyer. Warden is strong as another of Frank’s rocks, helping him stay strong when his past history would dictate another relapse.

Another aspect of The Verdict I enjoyed was the way it made you think about the legal system. It’s neither pro-lawyer nor anti-lawyer, though it points out a number of positives and negatives. Several characters derogatorily refer to Frank and his colleagues as “you people,” saying that all lawyers are the same and that they have no problem gambling with people’s livelihoods in order to make more money. It’s a fair point, but we understand where Frank is coming from, also. He wants to do the right thing, and part of the reason he’s so depressed and dependent on his alcohol is that he’s lost a little faith in his profession.

There’s virtually nothing wrong with this film. If I had any complaints it’s that it doesn’t really do anything out of the ordinary, but it’s so well-directed and well-written that it’s easy to forgive its familiarity. And Newman’s performance is just incredible. If you ever need a reminder of why he’s a legend, look no further than The Verdict.

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