Friday, November 13, 2015

The Verdict

Paul Newman earned his sixth Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in THE VERDICT as alcoholic attorney Frank Galvin, whose brass ring of a case brings him heartache, betrayal, and finally a renewed sense of purpose. Though THE VERDICT may well represent Newman’s finest dramatic performance in a career full of great performances, he somehow lost the Oscar to GANDHI’s Ben Kingsley (he finally won on his seventh try in 1987 for THE COLOR OF MONEY).

The first time we see Frank Galvin, he’s drinking raw eggs and beer and playing pinball alone in an empty Boston tavern on an early wintry morning. He’s had four cases in the last three years—lost ‘em all—and is reduced to handing out his business card to grieving widows in the condolence line at funerals (he scans the obituaries every day for potential new clients).

Down, drunk, and nearly out, Galvin is tossed a bone by his friend and mentor Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden). Young Deborah Ann Kaye was admitted to an expensive Catholic hospital to deliver her baby, but suffered permanent brain damage and a coma when she was given the wrong anesthetic by her doctors. The Archdiocese is willing to settle for $210,000 to avoid a scandal, but seeing Deborah alone, hooked to machines, in the hospital bed where she’ll spend the rest of her natural life, has kicked Galvin in the rear.

Finding his soul and realizing no one but him gives a damn about Deborah, Galvin turns down the money and, with only Mickey and his new lover Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling) to help, prepares to try his case against “the Prince of Darkness:” high-priced lawyer Edward Concannon (James Mason, another Oscar nominee), whose reputation and influence have gained him the obvious favor of Judge Hoyle (Milo O’Shea).

THE VERDICT, based by screenwriter David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS) on a novel by Barry Reed, is less a courtroom drama than a stirring character study of a man given a second chance. He once had—and lost—a wife, money, respect, and a substantial law practice, but now spends his evenings buying drinks and telling jokes at the local Irish pub. Newman IS Frank Galvin, embodying his world-weariness and determination body and soul, and is always believable.

Director Sidney Lumet, another of THE VERDICT’s five Academy Award nominees, helms with a stark style that complements Newman’s performance perfectly, often shooting in one long take and placing the camera far across the room to accentuate Galvin’s loneliness and stacked odds against him. Lumet (DOG DAY AFTERNOON) isn’t afraid to use silence or flat lighting, and Johnny Mandel’s score is so effective, you won’t even know it’s there.

Between them, Newman and Lumet made dozens of landmark films (oddly, this is the only one they made together), and it’s a great tribute to say THE VERDICT is one of the best in each of their filmographies. The crack supporting cast also includes Edward Binns (from Lumet’s 12 ANGRY MEN), Lindsay Crouse, Joe Seneca, James Handy, Wesley Addy ,and Julie Bovasso. If you look closely, you’ll spot Bruce Willis as an uncredited courtroom extra. Lumet, Mamet also received an Oscar nod for his screenplay (as well as a Writers Guild Award), as did producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown for Best Picture.

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