The Verdict - 1982
The Verdict is directed by the legend Sidney Lumet (57’s 12 Angry Men, 75’s Dog Day Afternoon and 76’s Network) and stars another legend, Paul Newman (61’s The Hustler, 67’s Cool Hand Luke and 69’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). The screenplay was adapted by David Mamet (87’s The Untouchables) from a novel of the same name. The story centers around a washed-out lawyer looking for a big payout who finds himself regaining his moral compass and taking the case to trial instead of settling.
I love when a filmmaker like Sidney Lumet trusts that his audience will be able to piece the backstory of a character without the use of overhead narration or exposition. We see our main protagonist within the first five minutes playing pinball, drinking alcohol on four separate occasions, crashing two funerals looking for clients (as a lawyer), being kicked out of the last one and found by a friend passed out drunk in his office. The way the friend acts when he sees him, we know it’s not the first time he has found him in this state. He is essentially what the lawyers call an ambulance chaser. We as the audience automatically know how flawed our protagonist is and that he will be our surrogate through this movie. This is the hero we are supposed to root for. Throughout the rest of the movie we get nuggets of information through conversations to reaffirm our assessment of the character. Side note: there is a scene where Paul Newman cracks a raw egg in a beer and drinks it for breakfast… can’t wait to order that the next time I’m at a bar.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie is when Newman’s character, Frank Galvin, goes to the hospital for the second time to visit his new client. He is taking the photos of a woman in a coma who is barely surviving or qualifying as a human and he is slowly realizing what his doing. I honestly love how Lumet holds a shot of the pictures as they are slowly developing. The woman comes into focus and they cut back to Gavin’s face filled with shame and horror from his actions. The photos represent his conscience coming into focus. This also served as a wake up for us as the audience, since we have become accustomed to the jaded drunken Gavin, seeing him realize what type of men he became helps the audience realize that we didn’t question it, either. Later in the film we gain a little bit more backstory of his character and learn why his moral compass had been lost and why he is the type of man who would stand up for what is right.
Along with a Newman giving another career-defining performance, we get an incredible supporting role from Charlotte Rampling. She plays Newman’s love interest, Laura Fischer, and serves as a window into his past, as she is just like the audience trying to learn the mysterious past of our hero. For the most part she is just a bystander until the moment she is forced to motivate or push our hero forward during his time of doubt. She delivers a powerful and crude speech to our hero that pushes him to keep fighting. If you have watched the movie you know there is a bit more to her character but I won’t go into spoiler territory. My favorite scene between the two has close to zero dialogue between them all is said through their eyes and body language.
Lumet use of music is beyond perfection. For the most part its either so low you can’t hear it or it’s simply not there, but during three or four key scenes the music swells, almost drowning the movie in sound, making it more poignant and relevant. He was able to make the court room scenes look and feel exciting by using tracking shots and camera movement and allowed the actors to feel comfortable knowing they had time to live in the scene and find their groove within the long take. The best example comes from Gavin’s closing statements. We start with a wide shot of him slumped in his chair and the judge urging him to deliver his statement. As he starts to gain momentum in the message he is delivering to the jury the camera slowly starts to pan in closer and closer to his face. The camera acts as the attention of the jury and how the message is hitting home when all they can do is stare directly in his eyes and know this is the truth. I know I’m not breaking ground when I say that Sidney Lumet is one of the best to have ever step behind the camera.
The Verdict is a slow burn courtroom drama that delivers hours of entertainment thanks to the performances of its stars and its director. I honestly miss this kind of movie, a movie that knows 100% what its genre is and doesn’t try to add comedy or other elements to help move the story along. It trusts that its material is strong enough and its actors are talented enough to keep the audience engaged. A good, well-acted courtroom drama is why I love movies… that or Newman drinking a beer with a raw egg in it.
The Verdict is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it, I rest my case… Yeah, I said it.
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