I saw "The Verdict" when it was released in 1982 and just watched it again. It is amazing what of the film I retained in memory. Most of what I remembered was the sheer brilliance of Paul Newman. In seeing it the second time, I'm 24 years older, I've worked for attorneys, I've had an experience with the justice system. And still, what I take away from "The Verdict" is the sheer brilliance of Paul Newman. After Matthew McConnaughey made "A Time to Kill," he asked his agents if he could meet Paul Newman. I guess someone told him they were similar. Newman said to him, "This is a time to not take yourself seriously and your work very seriously." When Matthew McConnaughey has a 50+ year career, you'll talk (I'll be gone) - but it's evident that Paul Newman takes his work very seriously indeed. "The Verdict" is an old story - the drunken attorney who takes a case -think "The People Against O'Hara" for one - but this one has a stunning cast which includes Jack Warden, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling and Lindsay Crouse. And it asks one of life's great questions - what do you do when losing is just not an option? Drunken, disillusioned, ambulance-chasing Frank Galvin takes a slam-dunk hospital negligence case thrown to him by an investigator friend (Warden). His expert witness tells him he can win. So Galvin doesn't tell his client about a lowball offer, takes the thing to trial, loses his star witness, hires a pathetic expert, is reported by his client for failing to give them the offer they would have happily taken - simply put, there's no paddle but if he doesn't get down the river, any hope of reconstituting his life is over. Gone. David Mamet's script stacks everything against Frank but when you're fighting for your life, failure is not an option. Newman is a wonder with his loser posture and hyperventilation and his desperateness. It's in his voice, it's on his face, it's in his smile, it's in his shaking hands. He's up against James Mason and his huge law firm, a smug, well-dressed bunch who will stop at nothing to win. One might think this type of firm is a cliché; it isn't. One of the characters says it best - "You have no loyalty to anyone, you don't care who you hurt. You're all whores." Unfortunately in real life, all attorneys are pretty much the same, but at least in film we occasionally are shown a decent one. When this film was made, the public had not yet been subjected to the Dream Team, the Robert Blake Case, the Menendez Brothers. But even today, knowing better, you can't help but buy into Newman's frantic sincerity. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, with top honors going to Mason's smooth Concannon and Lindsay Crouse, who gives us the most powerful five minutes of the film with her magnificent performance as the admission nurse. Is it a manipulative film? As hell. Is it feel good? You betcha. But take it from someone who knows an unfortunate truth - that justice is for the rich who pull in favors and have the money to fight, everyone lies their teeth off, and the jury system is sad - if I can be swept away by "The Verdict" and by Paul Newman's performance (another Oscar he was cheated out of) - you're gonna eat it up.
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A lawyer sees the chance to salvage his career and self-respect by taking a medical malpractice case to trial rather than settling.
July 17, 2020