Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Film #57: The Verdict

Paul Newman delivers a career-best performance in this comeback film from director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Prince of the City, Network). In it, he plays Frank Galvin, an alcoholic, ambulance-chasing lawyer
whose recent string of lost cases has put him in a desperate situation. He's given one last chance at a moneymaker by a working class family who're suing a powerful, Catholic-run hospital for rendering a pregnant relative comatose. The case is barrelling for an out-of-court settlement, but Galvin senses something bigger afoot. His snooping into the details of the case send shockwaves through the Boston courtrooms and the Archbishop's august chambers.

Scripted by David Mamet, The Verdict is occasionally ignorant of the letter of the law, but it's nonetheless compelling mainly due to Newman's riveting, clawing performance and the imposingly somber atmosphere created by director Lumet. In 1982, the year that brought us E.T., Toosie, and Gandhi, The Verdict didn't have much of a chance at the Oscars, even though it was obvious this was Newman's finest hour (three years after the Academy gave the Best
Actor award to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi, the Academy guiltily gave Newman a special Oscar and THEN awarded Best Actor to him the following year, 1986, for The Color of Money). Newman, for maybe the first time in his career, looks beaten, old, tired--I mean, THIS is Butch Cassidy? No way!! He's magnificent throughout, in voice and in movement. Frank Galvin is an incompetent lawyer, no doubt, but Newman alone makes us care whether he wins or loses. He just wants to do one good thing in his life.

The tony supporting cast--Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling (looking as beautiful as ever), Joe Seneca, Wesley Addy, Edward Binns, Milo O'Shea (memorable as the case's crappy, crooked judge), Julie Bovasso and Lewis Stadlen--features two more notable performances: James Mason as the hospital's cocky defense lawyer and a small but pivotal role for Lindsay Crouse as the reluctant star witness for the prosecution (her scene is my favorite in the film). The Verdict, Sidney Lumet's quiet, autumnal character study, is given an aged, wood-hewn look by photographer Andrzej Bartkowiak and production designer Edward Pisoni. It's all I can do to hold back from providing you with Galvin's incredible summation speech. But I think I'll let you discover that for yourself. Here's the trailer instead...

No comments: