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The Verdict (1982)

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Theatrical Release: December 8, 1982

Blu Ray Release: May 7, 2013

Director: Sidney Lumet


Review by James Klein

Nominated for five Academy Awards and considered one of the best performances in Newman's career, The Verdict is a courtroom drama that doesn't overwhelm the audience with twists and turns and keeps the suspense to a lull, but a character study of a man bent on redemption; a broken, lonely, alcoholic ambulance chaser who has the opportunity to change his life around with one case.

We first meet Frank playing pinball at a bar. He is alone, drink resting next to the clanging machine as the camera slowly moves in on his face to show us what a pitiful creature he is. Before going into court or paying his "respects" at funeral homes, he quickly downs mouthwash or pops eye drops in his eyes to hide the fact that he had been drinking. When Frank's friend and colleague Mickey (Jack Warden) finds Frank slumped in his office which he tore apart during a drunken stupor, Frank is at the end of the ropes. Mickey however is able to get Frank a case regarding the negligence of a few doctors at a Catholic hospital after a woman had gone in to give birth and was given the wrong anesthesia, causing her to go into a coma and becoming brain dead. Her sister and brother-in-law are taking the doctors to court with Frank going up against the hospital and its doctors.

While Frank is prepared to take an out of court settlement, he visits the comatose victim in the hospital to take pictures of her in case he needs the photos for leverage. As he sits there and watches this broken woman whose life hangs by a shred, Frank sees himself in this woman's shoes and vows to not only help this woman and her family seek justice but to also turn his life around and maybe make emends for his past failures.

The Verdict may not have the suspense and mystery that most courtroom dramas or thrillers seem to possess but that is what makes The Verdict different from the norm. The film takes its time and focuses more on the characters than the actual plot. It's really about one man's struggle to win, not just in the case but also to win back his life. Thanks to David Mamet's brilliant screenplay, The Verdict feels almost like a stage play at times. The camera may not move around so much or the editing isn't cutting every five seconds like most films; The Verdict focuses its attention to the characters in the story. I love the slow zooms on actors faces or the slow dissolves in between scenes. Audiences, especially younger viewers, may find the film slow moving but if The Verdict played out like most court films, the essence and/or point of the film would be lost.

I cannot say enough about Paul Newman. He was one of our greatest actors and has starred in some of the best films ever made (I will still argue Slap Shot is one of the best comedies ever). Sidney Lumet is also one of our best directors, whose first film may be his greatest film, 12 Angry Men. Rounding out the cast is the excellent Jack Warden and James Mason. Charlotte Rampling is also very good as Newman's potential love interest. And for such a small part, Lindsey Crouse, who also starred with Newman in Slap Shot, has one of her best roles and a very memorable moment as an ex-nurse who also wants to redeem herself by doing the right thing.

The cold, wintery backdrop set in Boston also sets up the tone and pace perfectly. The cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Speed, Falling Down, Terms of Endearment) is gorgeous to look at and doesn't draw audiences attention away from the story when in fact it adds to the story.

20th Century Fox's blu ray is very impressive. There are some moments of  film grain and specks right that happen right before a dissolve but the film looks much brighter and colors more sharper than any version I have ever seen. I will say the sound was a bit difficult to hear but the movie has always been a quiet, subtle, soft spoken film. The extras on the disc are also great as there is an informative commentary by Lumet and Newman as well as both men get their own small featurette. There is also an old and unfortunately short making of segment that was done in 1982.

The Verdict is a wonderful film to use as a tool for a directing class or an acting class to show and instruct younger people on how films and performances should be handled and performed.

[Rating: 4]

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