The final installment of my Father’s Day Gift Guide is perfect for the dad who enjoys courtroom procedurals and/or Paul Newman. (It’s fitting that I have both Newman and Robert Redford in my Father’s Day Guide.) Not only does The Verdict have an A-list cast in front of the camera, but it also has one behind it with director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter David Mamet. The story of a lawyer battling addiction has been documented in movies since the 1930s with A Free Soul; Newman’s embittered performance and Mamet’s dialogue works to present a story of triumph, determination, and redemption.
Frank Galvin (Newman) is an ambulance chaser with a drinking problem. When he’s presented with a medical malpractice case that’s said to be a shoo-in, Galvin believes he’s set for life. However, his conscious, and his desire to redeem himself for his past failures causes him to decide to fight for the victim.
Everything about The Verdict is top-notch, and would you expect anything less from Mamet and Lumet; two people who have produced consistent quality in motion pictures? As if those men weren’t enough, you have two fantastic actors playing off each other in Newman and James Mason. Mason plays the attorney for the Boston archdiocese and who wouldn’t want Mason to defend him; that voice alone yelling “Objection” is worth the price of the Blu-ray. Mason’s character, Ed Concannon, is a shark when it comes to lawyer tactics and a scene of him coaxing and molding a witnesses story is a potent indicator of his prowess. The moments that take place in the courtroom are where Mamet’s words are explicated to their full effect. Having two fine actors such as Mason and Newman makes the words of the script lyrical, rolling off the tongue in a wave of legal jargon that’s never too complex for the audience to understand. As emotions rise within the attorneys, the audience can feel those emotions without specifically being told what to feel.
Newman is the star here (and was nominated for an Oscar along with Mason), but his alcohol issues are solved in a rather pat way…by never being solved at all. Drinking ravages Galvin’s confidence, his memory, and everything that’s necessary for him to do his job effectively. While he never devolves into being a junkie for booze, on par with Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses, he does hurt himself and end up almost ruining his career. The problem is that other than a few rudimentary sequences of inebriation, nothing particularly terrible happens to him. Drinking always seems to be a relatively light offense in Hollywood movies, and this film treats it no differently considering how attached he is to drink. Other than that, this has to be one of the best Newman performances that I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen many, so please, no angry emails). He’s a man at the end of his rope, so desperate that he solicits his services to bereaved family members while they’re in mourning. His right hand man, played by Jack Warden, is performed equally well. In a way, Warden’s character Mickey, is the only family Frank has. When he has to inform Frank that Frank’s girlfriend is a mole, it’s the one moment of privacy in a movie that’s about uncovering secrets; filmed in a crane shot with the city noises drowning out the sound, it’s a pure moment of intimacy between two men that only have each other. It’s at this point that Frank can muster up the strength, and galvanize (I have to believe his last name was an intentional play on words) the court to believe his client deserves a better way of life.
The script is packed with information, and there are times that either plot points are revealed too rapidly or not rapidly enough. It takes a bit of time to understand why the church is involved in the case at all, and when Frank reveals the church owns the hospital that’s being sued it’s said in the blink of an eye. I also found Charlotte Rampling to be the weak link in the cast. She’s solid, but the character is revealed to be a mole who falls for Frank. It’s a plot contrivance that’s more James Bond as opposed to courtroom drama. Other than that, the Blu-ray boasts a few features worth watching. First off, is audio commentary with Newman and Lumet. It’s obvious that both tracks were recorded separately, so Newman only appears for a few minutes before Lumet takes over completely. Listening to Lumet is fantastic as he details everything about the making-of the movie; it’s like getting the best of film school without paying for it. There’s a vintage making-of feature that includes interviews with the cast and crew, as well as footage from the finished product; there’s two retrospectives, one on Newman and another on Lumet. They’re nice to get an understanding of their acting/directing techniques, especially taking into account that neither one is with us anymore. The Milestones in Cinema History feature goes in-depth into the making-of in terms of exploring the origins of the movie, the original book, and Mamet’s script. If you’re looking for more on Mamet and his process with the movie, look to this. There’s also an episode of Hollywood Backstories (really a rehash of the other features), and the film’s trailer.
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