When a movie contains such illustrious names as Paul Newman, David Mamet and Sidney Lumet, it is hard not to have high hopes. Yet The Verdict meets these aspirations, and in the process presents some of the best work by the three before mentioned revered figures of American cinema.
Paul Newman stars as Frank “Frankie” Galvin, a once big time lawyer who has succumbed to the disease of alcoholism, which has stripped away any sense of dignity and integrity he once had in spades. His only lifeline is a big money negligence case given to him by his best friend Mickey (Jack Warden).
The case – which involves the Boston Archdiocese – is a civil suit lodged by the family of a healthy mother of two, who (during child birth) was given the wrong anaesthetic by her doctors. The child died during birth and she is now in a coma. At first looking to score a big pre-trial settlement, Frankie bewilders everyone by turning down the defence’s hefty settlement offer and opting to take the case to trail, holding the doctors accountable for their actions, while also finding purpose and redemption in his own life.
Newman has delivered a performance worthy of his stature as one of the great actors of all time. His portrayal as a shattered and vulnerable drunk, who believes it is his moral obligation to speak up for a woman whose injustice has been cast aside for a quick buck, is a sight to behold.
This is especially relevant during the films opening sequence, which brings forth the desperation and tragedy of a once great lawyer turned ambulance chaser, slipping his card to grieving widows at their husband’s funerals, his shaky hands waiting for the next swig of booze to wash away the pain.
James Mason also gives a great performance as Ed Concannon, the notorious and brutal defence attorney who knows every trick in the book, and shows no mercy grilling witnesses on the stand.
Much like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, Lumet has crafted a film which focuses on one man’s struggle against the world, while dealing with issues of self doubt, self pity, and the betrayal of those close to him.
The beauty of Lumet’s movies lies within the simplicity of his craft. He works his actors hard, often rehearsing them for weeks during pre-production. He then lets them loose on the screen, capturing their actions often with stark, single frame shots at various angles and distances.
He knows that with a story like The Verdict, or like Serpico and 12 Angry Men, it is the performances that will make or break the film. These are personal stories told through real characters, and only an actor’s director such as Lumet can do these stories justice.