In retrospect, Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (1982) is a somewhat predictable, yet understated court room experience that attains its high stakes drama solely through an audience’s investment in the main character, Frank Galvin (Paul Newman). Originally intended as a vehicle for Robert Redford, David Mamet’s screenplay stayed so relatively subdued and faithful to Barry Reed’s novel that Redford eventually bowed out of the prospect of playing a ‘has been’ alcoholic.
Plot wise: Attorney Frank Gavin has hit rock bottom. A one time hot shot reduced to ambulance chasing and peddling his wares inside funeral homes until he gets kicked out, Frank also indulges in pinball and binges at his local pub in Boston. His biggest thrill now is picking up one night stands.
Frank’s colleague and mentor, Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) is also his most devoted friend. He believes in Frank even when Frank doesn’t in himself. After Frank is approached by Sally Doneghy (Roxanne Hart) and her husband, Kevin (James Hardy) about a case involving medical negligence and malpractice, Frank decides to pull himself up by his bootstraps and take on a trio of reputable surgeons at a noted hospital.
However, Frank’s biggest opposition proves to be defense counsel, Ed Concannon (James Mason, in his final film role) – a wily old man who knows the law like the back of his hand and is not afraid to use any tactic necessary to win his case. To this end, Concannon befriends the presiding judge, Hoyle (Milo O’Shea) – who also has a more personal agenda against Gavin.
Concannon also assigns a spy, Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling) to seduce Frank in between alcoholic bouts and bleed him for information about the case. Frank’s eventual discovery of her treachery leads to one of the film’s most memorable confrontations. Hampered by ineffectual witnesses and a failure to locate the admitting nurse, Kaitlin Costello (Lindsay Crouse), Frank goes to trial with the barest of essentials – a fighting will and understanding heart – all the while harboring the deep suspicion that he will lose his case in the end.
Director Sidney Lumet is dealing with relatively standard material here. In retrospect, the film plays like a glorified episode of Law & Order with sustained and methodical pacing. At times, Mamet’s screenplay seems to be struggling for something to say. Then again, The Verdict is hardly a film noted for either its last act crescendo or narrative twists.
What remains compelling and sustaining throughout are the performances; most notably delivered by Paul Newman, James Mason and Jack Warden. All three men are functioning at superlative levels with Newman’s laconic loner dominating every frame. Mason’s seasoned neuroticism is diabolically on point. Warden does ‘his pal Friday’ proud. The Verdict may not be a film you’ll remember for story, but it certainly stands out as an actor’s dream.
Fox’s Special Edition DVD is an improvement in image quality over their standard release. Though digital artifacts and film grain remain prominent and add a distracting texture to the visuals during several key sequences, the overall image quality is one of refined and desaturated intensity. Flesh tones are slightly too orange at times. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are bright, but not blooming. Fine details are nicely realized in close ups, though more problematic in long and medium shots. There are several scenes that exhibit more age related damage than one might expect. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 Dolby Digital and is presented at an adequate listening level.
Extras include an audio commentary from Lumet and Newman that is rambling in spots; three featurettes on various aspects of the film’s construction and shaping; and the original theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)