1982 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #313: The Verdict (1982)

Whilst Redford was jumping behind the camera, Paul Newman continued to captivate in leading roles. One such role was that of attorney Frank Galvin in The Verdict, a part that nabbed him a Best Actor nomination.

Once a member of a major law firm, Galvin has recently has suffered a fall from grace due to his divorce and the fact that he hasn’t been able to win a case. Galvin’s old friend Mickey hands him a new case in which the family of a woman in a coma is suing the hospital that the feel put her in that condition. Five years ago, Debra Ann Kay went into the hospital to have a baby but was given the wrong anaesthetic and ended up comatose. Mickey gives the case to Galvin as he feels the Catholic hospital will most likely want to settle out of court. The hospital’s lawyers offer Galvin £210,000 to settle but, after visiting Debra in hospital, he feels that he has to do the right thing and takes the case to trial. Frank is fighting a losing battle from the word go as he finds himself up against slimy defence attorney Ed Concannon and a bench full of lawyers. In addition, all of the doctors who were in the operating room are covering each other’s backs and the only person who’ll testify is an MD who regularly appears as a star witness. Even the trial’s judge works against Frank as he seems as somewhat of an adversary. Just when it looks like Frank is out for the count, he figures out exactly why only one of the nurses wouldn’t testify. He works with this particle of information and eventually finds a witness that will be able to testify against the hospital. I personally feel that The Verdict plays out almost like a sports film with Frank being the once great sportsman who now struggles to keep up with the youngsters. So, just like a sports movie, the final scenes let the audience decide whether Frank still has it or if he’ll lose to somebody who has superior tactics.

The Verdict perfectly demonstrates the sort of role Paul Newman was taking at this point in his career. He was no longer Butch Cassidy or The Sting’s Henry Gondorff and instead specialised in playing once great men who are past their former glory. Though he only was nominated for Best Actor here, it would be reprising the role of The Hustler’s Eddie Felson that would finally win him the award four years later. His performance in The Verdict is a thing of beauty and perfectly demonstrates how Newman devotes himself entirely to his character. Despite his faults, we’re rooting for Frank Galvin from the word-go as he’s a man that’s willing to do the right thing and essentially wants to right the wrongs he’s made in the past. Every good hero needs an antagonist and James Mason plays his role as Concannon perfectly. Regularly cool, calm and collected; Concannon is later revealed to be a master manipulator and attempts to defend the hospital, fully knowing that they’re in the wrong. Providing excellent support are Charlotte Rampling, as Frank’s love interest Laura, and Jack Warden as his best mate Mickey.
As well as marking Newman’s final appearance in a Best Picture nominee, The Verdict marks the last appearance in this blog of Sidney Lumet. Lumet once again is able to direct a character-driven piece that provides shocks and ultimately makes us care about the outcome. Lumet was aided by a brilliant script from David Mamet, who creates a group of characters who feel realistic and are forced to make moral decisions that we may have to make at some point. The Verdict is definitely a stripped-down old-fashioned courtroom drama but it does what it does excellently. It’s fair to say that, of the three films I’ve watched in this post, The Verdict was definitely the one I enjoyed the most so surprisingly it’s the only one that didn’t go on to win Best Picture.


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