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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.
For more about The Verdict and the The Verdict Blu-ray release, see the The Verdict Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 13, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, Lindsay Crouse
Director: Sidney Lumet
» See full cast & crew
The Verdict Blu-ray Review
One of the best courtroom dramas? Guilty.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 13, 2013
Calling a courtroom drama The Verdict is akin to titling a sports movie The Big Game—it doesn't really say anything—but don't let that put you off director Sidney Lumet's 1982 malpractice thriller, which was nominated for five Academy Awards and plays host to one of star Paul Newman's most memorable performances. Lumet, of course, made his debut in 1957 with 12 Angry Men—widely considered the second best movie in its sub-genre after To Kill a Mockingbird—and his return to legal theatrics twenty five years later has the same level of exacting procedural detail. But while 12 Angry Men is a study in consensus building and opinion swaying, The Verdict is a more personal, character-driven experience, a redemption story that follows a down-and-out lawyer who decides to take on the might-equals-right legal system with little chance of winning. It's one of those scrappy underdog films that you can't help but emotionally invest in, bolstered by a phenomenal cast, a smart and gritty script from David Mamet—adapting Barry Reed's novel of the same name—and a subtle subtext about social inequality.
Paul Newman is most definitely not his usual handsome, swaggering self here. Haggard and whiskey-voiced, he plays Frank Galvin, an alcoholic Boston lawyer whose hands are so shaky he can't even lift a full shot glass to his lips. A once-promising attorney at a prestigious firm, Frank has since been hit with a rough divorce and a near-disbarment, leaving him on his own as a freelance "ambulance chaser," trying to drum up clients by crashing funerals. He's lost each of the four cases he's had in the past three years, his office is a paper-strewn sty, and he spends most of his days absentmindedly playing pinball at his favorite bar instead of reviewing the files for his upcoming trial.
Frank's newly retired lawyer pal Mick (Jack Warden) has taken pity on him and passed him what should be an open-and-shut gig representing a woman who was given the wrong anesthetic during childbirth and is now deep in a brain-dead coma, with no chance of ever waking up. The woman's sister (Roxanne Hart) and brother-in-law (James Handy) are hoping for an out-of-court settlement so they can get away from their dreary lives, and defense lawyer Ed Concannon (James Mason), representing the Archdiocese of Boston—which owns the hospital where the incident occurred—is prepared to offer them $210,000, a third of which will go to Frank. It's enough dough for him to drown himself in cognac, but when when Frank goes to visit the victim in the hospital, he recognizes that this case could be the chance to turn his life and career around. Without telling the plaintiffs, he turns down the settlement and decides to go to trial, one drunk lawyer against the well-funded archdiocese and its team of sterling attorneys. Did I mention one of the doctors indicted in the case literally wrote the book on anesthesiology?
Mamet knows how to write desperate, broke-down men, and he takes Frank on a compelling arc from despicable grief-hound to champion of little guy justice. More than anything, The Verdict is a compelling character study, and your eyes simply don't leave Paul Newman. He's excellent as a man who buries his anxiety of failure under layers of put-on bluster and apathy.You want Frank to shed this "I don't give a shit" act and reach his true potential, and he slowly does, putting in the footwork of chasing down leads and arranging his argument, fighting setbacks and uncovering the truth.
Since the film is more methodical than suspenseful, "thriller" is probably the wrong word to use to describe the plot, but Mamet's script is brisk and twist-filled, with disappearing and/or uncooperative witnesses, below-the-belt legal tactics you won't see coming, and even a femme fatale of sorts. The always sensual Charlotte Rampling plays Laura Fischer, a divorcee Frank woos at his usual bar, and though her character seems ancillary at first— merely a shoulder to cry on—she soon plays a pivotal role in the proceedings. The ensemble cast is excellent on the whole. Joe Seneca plays an "expert" witness who can't deliver the goods on the stand, Irish character actor Milo O'Shea is a wild-eyebrowed hoot as Judge Hoyle—"a bag man for the boys downtown" who's basically already sided with the defense—and Mamet's then-wife, Lindsay Crouse, is brilliant in a bit part as the ace up the prosecution's sleeve. Jack Warden makes a curmudgeonly best friend, and James Mason is perfectly over-confident, making for a great comeuppance when he inevitably gets cut down to size.
You don't need me to tell you how the film ends; it's a given that Frank will deliver a rousing appeal to the jury during his closing arguments—"We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions. And we doubt the law. But today you are the law."—and it's a foregone conclusion that one beaten-down man will prevail against a rich and heavily guarded adversary. What makes The Verdict is how Sidney Lumet and David Mamet get us to that point of heart-swelling, David vs. Goliath victory. Their work feels effortless. The cinematography, the acting, the dreary, heightened mood—it all comes together to make one of the all-time great courtroom dramas.
The Verdict Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Verdict is handed down on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks like it was possibly sourced from an old master, but still makes an appreciable upgrade from standard definition. 20th Century Fox hasn't given the film the frame-by-frame restorative treatment it's given other classics recently; the image is often marked with black and white specks that come and go—though never distractingly, or in large numbers—and the grain structure perhaps seems a bit too heavy, giving the picture a muddled quality, especially in darker scenes. Still, this is better than a transfer that's been smoothed over with DNR and artificially sharpened with edge enhancement. The Verdict at least looks naturally filmic. Clarity is so-so; there are some tighter shots that look wonderfully sharp, bringing out the fine detail in the actors faces and clothing, but there are plenty of other scenes that don't seem as crisp as they could be given a proper remaster from original source materials. Barring some crushed shadows, color seems mostly true to source, though. In his commentary track, Lumet discusses his choices for the film's palette—lots of drab neutrals, with only two or three instances of strong hues—and from his description, the picture looks accurate.
The Verdict Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The disc includes two English audio options—the default 5.1 mix and a mono track, both in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio codec—but they're practically indistinguishable. The film's audio was originally mono, and the extended multi-channel mix here really only adds some quiet bleeding room for the few rare scenes where Lumet decides to use music. Most of the time, the rear speakers are completely silent. (As they should be, movie audio purists would argue.) This is an almost entirely dialogue-driven film—with minimal effects, ambience, and scoring—so thankfully, the actors' voices are always cleanly recorded as easily understood. I didn't catch any pops, hisses, crackles, or any other notable issues. No problems here. The disc also includes several dub and subtitle options—see above for details—including English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Italian subtitles for Sidney Lumet's commentary track.
The Verdict Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Verdict Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A twisting account of one broken man versus the massive legal machine, The Verdict is a brilliant courtroom drama and character study from director Sidney Lumet and writer David Mamet, both doing what they do best. This is a solid film on all sides—the plotting, the ensemble cast, the dreary atmosphere—and it holds up well to repeat viewings. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is a straight port of the DVD—complete with a decent-if- outdated-looking transfer—but if you don't yet own the film, this version's certainly worth picking up for its wealth of special features, including a great audio commentary and several interview-based retrospective pieces. Highly recommended!
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