The Verdict

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: David Mamet (based on the novel by Barry Reed)
Stars: 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), Edward Binns (Bishop Brophy), Julie Bovasso (Maureen Rooney), Roxanne Hart (Sally Doneghy), James Handy (Kevin Doneghy), Wesley Addy (Dr. Towler), Joe Seneca (Dr. Thompson), Lewis Stadlen (Dr. Gruber)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1982
Country: U.S.
The Verdict DVD
The VerdictIt is interesting that Sidney Lumet's grim, but fully engrossing legal drama The Verdict was released theatrically the same weekend in 1982 as Walter Hill's 48 Hrs., an action-comedy that paired Nick Nolte with Eddie Murphy in his first major film role. 48 Hrs. is one of the quintessential '80s American films--fast, slick, loud, and utterly unconcerned with any real issues. It's pure entertainment designed to be enjoyed and forgotten; it gives you a fast high that wears off just as quickly. The Verdict, on the other hand, is an odd amalgam of '70s and '80s American cinema. While it has the stern, serious, art-film aura that was the hallmark of so much '70s cinema, it is ultimately a feel-good ode to right trumping might, good triumphing over evil--the very core of Reagan-era America.

The protagonist in The Verdict is Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), a once notable Boston lawyer whose personal tragedies have driven him to alcoholism and a reliance on funerals to dig up new clients. He has only had three cases in the past four years (all of which he lost) when friend and fellow lawyer Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) brings him a slam-dunk settle-out-of-court case: A woman was given the wrong anesthetic during childbirth and is now in a vegetative state. The Archdiocese of Boston, which owns the hospital in which the mistake was made, offers $210,000 as a settlement, but Frank turns it down. He sees the case as a shot at redemption, a chance to make a real difference by trying it in open court and thus bringing to justice those who caused so much suffering by their negligence, rather than just allowing them to buy their way out of responsibility.

From the beginning, everything is stacked against Frank. He only has five days to prepare the case, and the judge (Milo O'Shea), who is heavily biased toward the defendant for personal and professional reasons, won't give him a continuance. Frank's decision to try the case was based largely on a well-respected doctor's willingness to testify against the doctors accused of negligence, but it's no big surprise when said doctor suddenly “goes on vacation” when the court date arrives. The lawyer for the defense is Ed Concannon (James Mason), who is smooth, relentless, and completely corrupt; he lords over a huge conference table of underling lawyers who are ready to do his every bidding, and it's only appropriate that Mickey refers to him as “The Prince of F---ing Darkness.”

Aesthetically, The Verdict looks like a film that would have been made five to seven years earlier. Lumet worked with cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, who had just shot two other films for him, 1981's Prince of the City and 1982's Deathtrap, to give the film a sense of unrelenting gloom that reflects Frank's despondency and his inability to escape the past. The story takes place in Boston in winter, so there is guaranteed to be no sunlight cutting through the thick layer of gray haze that hangs over every exterior shot. All the interiors take place in aging buildings constructed entirely of dark hardwood--there is not a primary color to be found anywhere. The bar where Frank spends his nonworking hours is a dreary place where the laughs barely cover up the sadness; it's telling that he meets a woman (Charlotte Rampling) there who may be either his salvation or his downfall.

The Verdict was based on a novel by lawyer Barry Reed and adapted by playwright David Mamet, who infused it with his trademark staccato dialogue. Paul Newman, who was on the cusp of entering a new phase in his career in which his boyish good looks and striking blue eyes would be subverted to more cynical endeavors, gives a bravura performance. He sinks deep in Frank's loss--looking tired, haggard, and, most of all, lost--and slowly emerges, bit by bit, reclaiming some sense of dignity. The only thing that sustains him is his unrelenting faith in the jury and their ability to grasp the truth through the smoke and mirrors of high-price attorneys. Thus, the film makes a clear divide between “facts,” those bits of confirmable information presented in court, and “truth,” the intangible essence for which we all strive.

It's a compelling theme, and The Verdict weaves its story well, drawing out the suspense of the case without ever forgetting that it is primarily a character piece. The case itself is about a woman who is now and forever will be a vegetable--unable to see, hear, or respond to anything. Thus, it never really about the woman because little can be done for her; rather, it is about Frank, who has been comatose in his own way for so long, but has the chance to redeem himself and see the world again through an unclouded lens. When all seems lost and Mickey tells Frank that there will be other cases, all he can say over and over again is, “There are no other cases. This is the case.”

The Verdict Collector's Edition DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • Subtitles English, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet and actor Paul Newman
  • “The Making of The Verdict
  • “Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting”
  • “Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing”
  • “Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict
  • “Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict
  • Stills gallery
  • Trailers for eight Paul Newman films
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 12, 2007

    Make no mistake--The Verdict is an exceedingly dark film. Even the brightest lit scenes tend to be infused with a dull haze. The primary color palette is composed of browns, grays, and blacks, so don't expect a lot of vibrancy or intensity of hues. That having been said, the new anamorphic widescreen transfer on Fox's Collector's Edition DVD of The Verdict couldn't look much better, and it clearly improves on the 2002 DVD release. The new transfer effectively reproduces the intended look of the film without letting it slide over into murkiness. In fact, I noticed new details that I had never really seen before. The image is slightly soft, but that is part of the film's look. The audio options include both monaural and a stereo track that opens up the musical score a bit. Both soundtracks are quite soft, and much of the dialogue is uttered in hush whispers and low tones, so you may find yourself turning the sound up more than usual.
    The first disc in this two-disc set includes the same screen-specific audio commentary that was on the 2002 DVD. The disc jacket says it is by Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman, but Newman contributes only a few minutes well into the commentary, while the rest of it is Lumet solo. Lumet is certainly worth listening to, as the veteran director shares ample insight into the production of The Verdict, as well as his approaches to and theories of filmmaking in general. The second disc includes a number of featurettes and documentaries, both new and old. “The Making of The Verdict” is a 10-minute promotional piece produced for the film's theatrical release. It's padded with a lot of clips from the film, but it also includes some behind-the-scenes footage and circa-1982 interviews with Newman, James Mason, Jack Warden, novelist Barry Reed, and producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown. There are also several new featurettes, including “Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting” and “Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing,” which run 9 and 11 minutes respectively and feature new interviews with the legendary actor and director. Other new additions are “Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict,” a 23-minute featurette that features new interviews with Lumet, Newman, Zanuck, Brown, Lindsay Crowse, and film scholar Richard Jewell, and an episode of Hollywood Backstories, which covers a lot of the same ground. The second disc is rounded out by a stills gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and trailers for eight other Paul Newman films: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, From the Terrace, Hombre, The Hustler, The Long, Hot Summer, Quintet, The Towering Inferno, and What a Way to Go!.

    Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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