Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Verdict (1982)

The Verdict is in.

This courtroom drama from director Sidney Lumet boasts one of Paul Newman's finest performances.

He's brilliant as washed up Boston lawyer Frank Galvin. This member of the bar has only tried four cases in the last three years and lost all of them. His secretary is long gone. His office is a mess. Galvin spends a lot of time in bars. He smokes a lot. Galvin makes cold calls to funeral homes during wakes trying to drum up business.

Friend Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) sends a case his way to help him out. Sally and Kevin Doneghy (Roxanne Hart, James Hardy) want to sue the Archdiocese of Boston. Sally's sister went into cardiac arrest while giving birth. She is unresponsive in hospital. The Doneghys contend the woman's doctors are responsible for the life-altering incident.

Morrissey figures Galvin can't lose. "I got you a good case," he tells him. "It's a moneymaker." He'll cut a settlement with the archdiocese, get a nice chunk of cash for his efforts and use the proceeds to help him in retirement.

But Galvin is struck by just how drastic his client's injuries are. He decides he'll take the case to court, even though he's offered a hefty cheque to settle. "I came here to take your money," Galvin admits during his meeting with the archdiocese. "I can't take it. If I take the money, I'm lost. I'll just be a rich ambulance chaser." The Doneghys are outraged. They want to start a new life after several years of caring for Sally's sister. Galvin struggles to find witnesses who can help him win his case. Dr. Gruber (Lewis Stadlen) is initially eager to help Galvin out, but he skips town when it's crunch time.

Galvin, working only with Morrissey, is up against a formidable opponent. His legal adversary, Ed Concannon (James Mason), has a small army of lawyers to help him win his case. Morrissey calls Concannon "the prince of f------ darkness." His firm doesn't fight fair either. Ethics is an interesting part of The Verdict. Galvin and Morrissey repeatedly lie to get the information they need. At what point is such dishonesty wrong? Is it OK for Galvin because he's trying to help a woman who's in such rough shape?

Newman is very convincing depicting Galvin's desperation, especially when Gruber disappears. The Verdict scored five Oscar nominations, but not one for Julie Bovasso. As nurse Maureen Rooney, she knows what happened to Doneghy's sister. The screen crackles with tension when Galvin confronts her. There's some good clashes between Galvin and Judge Hoyle (Milo O'Shea). Hoyle doesn't mince words when it comes to what he thinks about Galvin's performance in the courtroom. But Galvin knows a few things about Hoyle's past too.

Readers, let me know what you think about the jury's decision. It seemed hard to believe to me. But maybe that closing speech by Galvin had an impact.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has reviewed several of Newman's films in recent weeks. The Verdict is tops. See this film.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Edward Binns, who appears as Bishop Brophy, also appeared in Patton, North By Northwest and Fail-Safe. Mason was in North By Northwest too.

Look closely for Bruce Willis as a courtroom observer. I missed him, but I thought I saw John Goodman. Internet Movie Database does not back up what I thought my eyes saw.

The Verdict was nominated for best picture, actor, supporting actor, director and screenplay. This fine drama didn't win one Oscar. Gandhi, Ben Kingsley, Louis Gossett, Jr., Richard Attenborough and Missing won.

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