The Verdict (1982)

Paul Newman in 'The Verdict
Tackling a medical malpractice case that could revive his once glorious career,
attorney Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) questions a key witness, Dr. Thompson
(Joe Seneca), in the compelling courtroom drama The Verdict.

Copyright © 1982 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Stats: 129 minutes, Rated R, Color. Available on Videocassette and Laserdisc. Also visit its Internet Movie Database Entry.

Leonard Maltin Review: 4 stars out of 4
Newman gives one of his finest performances as Boston lawyer who's hit bottom, until a medical negligence case gives him a chance to restore his self-esteem - while fighting for the kind of justice he still believes in. Director Lumet uses silence as eloquently as dialogue, and turns a story with more than a few loopholes into an emotionally charged experience. Look carefully for Bruce Willis as a courtroom spectator. Screenplay by David Mamet, from the novel by Barry Reed.

Roger Ebert Review: 4 stars out of 4
There is a moment in The Verdict when Paul Newman walks into a room and shuts the door and trembles with anxiety and with the inner scream that people should get off his back. No one who has ever been seriously hung over or needed a drink will fail to recognize the moment. It is the key to his character in The Verdict, a movie about a drinking alcoholic who tries to pull himself together for one last step at salvaging his self-esteem.

Newman plays Frank Galvin, a Boston lawyer who has had his problems over the years - a lost job, a messy divorce, a disbarment hearing, all of them traceable in one way or another to his alcoholism. He has a "drinking problem," as an attorney for the archdiocese delicately phrases it. That means that he makes an occasional guest appearance at his office and spends the rest of his day playing pinball and drinking beer, and his evening drinking Irish whiskey and looking to see if there isn't at least one last lonely woman in the world who will buy his version of himself in preference to the facts. Galvin's pal, a lawyer named Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) has drummed up a little work for him: An open-and-shut malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital in Boston where a young woman was carelessly turned into a vegetable because of a medical oversight. The deal is pretty simple. Galvin can expect to settle out-of-court and pocket a third of the settlement - enough to drink on for what little future he is likely to enjoy.

But Galvin makes the mistake of going to see the young victim in a hospital, where she is alive but in a coma. And something snaps inside of him. He determines to try this case, by God, and to prove that the doctors who took her mind away from her were guilty of incompetence and dishonesty. In Galvin's mind, bringing this case to court is one and the same thing with regaining his self-respect - with emerging from his own alcoholic coma. Galvin's redemption takes place within the framework of a courtroom thriller. The screenplay by David Mamet is a wonder of good dialogue, strongly seen characters, and a structure that pays off in the big courtroom scene - as the genre requires. As a courtroom drama, The Verdict is superior work. But the director and the star of this film, Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman, seem to be going for something more; The Verdict is more a character study than a thriller, and the buried suspense in this movie is more about Galvin's own life than about his latest case.

Frank Galvin provides Newman with the occasion for one of his great performances. This is the first movie in which Newman has looked a little old, a little tired. There are moments when his face sags and his eyes seem terribly weary, and we can look ahead clearly to the old men he will be playing in ten years' time. Newman always has been an interesting actor, but sometimes his resiliency, his youthful vitality, have obscured his performances; he has a tendency to always look great, and that is not always what the role calls for. This time, he gives us old, bonetired, hung over, trembling (and heroic) Frank Galvin, and we buy it lock, stock, and shot glass.

The movie is populated with finely tuned supporting performances (many of them by British or Irish actors, playing Bostonians not at all badly). Jack Warden is the old law partner; Charlotte Rampling is the woman, also an alcoholic, with whom Galvin unwisely falls in love; James Mason is the ace lawyer for the archdiocese; Milo O'Shea is the politically connected judge; Wesley Addy provides just the right presence as one of the accused doctors. The performances, the dialogue, and the plot all work together like a rare machine.

But it's that Newman performance that stays in the mind. Some reviewers have found The Verdict a little slow-moving, maybe because it doesn't always hum along on the thriller level. But if you bring empathy to the movie, if you allow yourself to think about what Frank Galvin is going through, there's not a moment of this movie that's not absorbing. The Verdict has a lot of truth in it, right down to a great final scene in which Newman, still drinking, finds that if you wash it down with booze, victory tastes just like defeat.

Note: I have left this last paragraph just as I originally wrote it, because that is how the movie played for me. Several readers wrote to argue that his cup contained coffee, and that in their opinion he had stopped drinking. In 1994 I had a chance to ask Paul Newman, and he said: "Coffee." I would argue that there is no way to prove what is in the cup; all depends on how the movie strikes you. My reading of the scene is valid for me, I believe, even if it's wrong. To some degree we must complete all works of art in our own imaginations.

Pauline Kael Review
The camera sits like Death on the dark, angled images of this anguished movie about a Boston Irish lawyer, played by Paul Newman, who was hurt by those closest to him and became a booze-soaked failure. Lest anybody miss the point, the director, Sidney Lumet, puts dirges on the sound track. When the lawyer goes into court to fight the powerful Archdiocese of Boston, his faith in the judgment of the ordinary people who sit on the jury enables him to redeem himself. It's a Frank Capra setup given art-film treatment. (There's plenty of drizzle and brown gloom.) Newman plays his role for all it has got, making himself look soft and heavier, and even a little jowly, but it's a tired old show-business view of "a good man." In its own sombre, inflated terms, the picture is effective, but it's dragged out so self-importantly that you have time to recognize what a hopelessly naive, incompetent, and untrustworthy lawyer the hero is. With Charlotte Rampling, James Mason, Jack Warden, Lindsay Crouse, Milo O'Shea, Edward Binns, Julie Bovasso, Lewis Stadlen, and Wesley Addy. The script, by David Mamet, is based on a novel by Barry Reed; the cinematography is by Andrzej Bartkowiak. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown. 20th Century-Fox.

For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Academy Awards
Nominated for Picture 1982: Richard D. Zanuck - Producer, David Brown - Producer
Nominated for Actor 1982: Paul Newman
Nominated for Supporting Actor 1982: James Mason
Nominated for Director 1982: Sidney Lumet
Nominated for Writing - Screenplay (Based on Material from Another Medium) 1982: David Mamet

Cast List
Paul NewmanFrank Galvin
Charlotte RamplingLaura Fischer
Jack WardenMickey Morrissey
James MasonEd Concannon
Milo O'SheaJudge Hoyle
Lindsay CrouseKaitlin Costello Price
Edward BinnsBishop Brophy
Julie BovassoMaureen Rooney
Roxanne HartSally Doneghy
James HandyKevin Doneghy
Wesley AddyDr. Towler
Joe SenecaDr. Thompson
Lewis J. StadlenDr. Gruber
Kent BroadhurstJoseph Alito
Colin StintonBilly
Burtt HarrisJimmy the Bartender
Scott RhyneYoung Priest
Susan BenensonDeborah Ann Kaye
Evelyn MooreDr. Gruber's Nurse
Juanita FlemingDr. Gruber's Maid
Jack CollardBailiff
Ralph DouglasClerk
Gregor RoyJury Foreman
John BloodFuneral Director
Dick McGoldrickManager
Edward MasonWidow's Son
Patty O'Brien, Maggie TaskIrish Nurses
Joseph BergmanFriedman
Herbert RubensAbrams
J.P. FoleyJohn
Leib LenskyWheelchair Patient
Clay DearCourthouse Lawyer
J.J. ClarkCourthouse Guard
Greg DoucetteWaiter
Tony LaFortezzaSheraton Bartender
Marvin Beck, Herb PetersonSheridan Patrons
Production Credits
ProducerRichard D. Zanuck, David Brown
DirectorSidney Lumet
ScreenwriterDavid Mamet, based on the novel by Barry Reed
EditorPeter C. Frank
CinematographerAndrzej Bartkowiak
ComposerJohnny Mandel
Production DesignerEdward Pisoni
Art DesignerJohn Kasarda
CostumesAnna Hill Johnstone

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