The Verdict: Collector’s Edition
June 21, 2007
The Verdict (1982) came along at just the right time in Paul Newman’s career. He hadn’t had a hit movie in some time or a role that really challenged him (Absence of Malice excepted, natch). This would all change when he signed onto this troubled production. Based on the book of the same name by Boston malpractice lawyer Barry Reed, The Verdict was adapted for the screen by David Mamet and to be directed by Arthur Hiller. However, the director left due to “creative differences” and Jay Presson Allen was brought in to rewrite the script. She eventually left for the same reasons Hiller did and James Bridges came aboard to write and direct with Robert Redford starring. They couldn’t agree on certain story points and the project stalled. Newman and Sidney Lumet were hired and decided to use Mamet’s script.
Frank Galvin (Newman) is an alcoholic lawyer who scans the obituaries for potential clients. He hasn’t won a case in ages, losing four of them in three years, and his office, like his life, are in shambles. It’s located in an old building where the elevator doesn’t even work. His friend, Mickey Morrissey (Warden) throws him a case that is a guaranteed moneymaker. Its two weeks away and Galvin hasn’t even read the file or met the client.
A pregnant woman goes into a hospital to deliver her third child, was given the wrong anesthetic and she lapsed into a coma that killed the child and left her brain dead with zero chance of recovery. Galvin figures that the case won’t go to trial and that the Archdiocese, who owns the hospital, will settle out of court. That would suit him just fine as he’s been reduced to being an ambulance chaser who is deathly afraid of going to court. He talks to a doctor who’s willing to testify and figures the case is a slam dunk. Then, something happens to him: he visits the woman in a coma and realizes that the offer the Archdiocese gave him isn’t enough and that this woman deserves justice. Someone needs to pay for what happened to her. Galvin feels compelled to stand up for her rights and decides, against his better judgment, to go to court, facing off against Ed Concannon (Mason), a real shark who has infinite resources at his disposal and is not afraid to use them (and any other means) to win the case. Frank, on the other hand, only has Mike.
Paul Newman is excellent as the alcoholic attorney who develops a conscience and is determined to win his case despite the odds. Even though his character is a lush, Newman doesn’t resort to the usual drunk stereotype or showy theatrics. Galvin is the kind of alcoholic that needs a drink to steady his hand and calm his nerves. Newman plays a flawed character but with noble intentions and his story is one of redemption, the underdog against the system as it were. James Mason is the ideal opponent for Newman. He’s got the Hollywood pedigree that is comparable to Newman’s and brings a rock solid gravitas to the role. There’s a scene where his character is coaching one of the witnesses and it is incredible to watch how he manipulates the poor man. Mason’s character has an air of supreme smug confidence that makes you want to see Newman win, if only to wipe that superior expression right off his face.
The first disc features an audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet and actor Paul Newman… except that Newman chimes in for two minutes worth of comments and is never heard from again! No matter because Lumet is an excellent commentator who sees the film as a story about redemption and he identified with Galvin’s depression at the beginning. Lumet points out that all of the little bits of business that Galvin does, like spritzing his mouth so his breath doesn’t reek of beer, or the eye drops to get rid of his redeye, were things that Newman though of himself. Lumet talks about how he got involved in the project and why he went back to Mamet’s script. He admires Newman for not being afraid to play the worst aspects of an alcoholic. Finally, Lumet speaks about the film’s colour palette, lighting and other aspects on this solid track.
The second disc starts off with “The Making of The Verdict,” a promotional featurette done during the film’s production with clips from the film, behind-the-scenes footage and interview soundbites with key cast members.
A new extra to this edition is “Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting” which takes a look back at this role and how he approached it. Naturally, the actor started with the script and a series of rehearsals. Newman admired Lumet’s knack for being open to new ideas and talks about a few specific scenes.
Another new extra is “Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing” which focuses on his attitude towards his job. He says that he picks his projects on an instinctive level and points out that even though the director wields the power, if the script isn’t good, then the rest means nothing because it all starts with the writer. Lumet tries to explain the relationship he has with his actors and speaks intelligently about his approach and what he expects from them.
The third new extra is “Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict.” Lindsay Crouse, Lumet and Newman all contribute new interviews in this excellent retrospective look at how this film came together. It traces the project’s development from Mamet’s script to its enduring legacy.
“Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict” is an episode of the show that airs on AMC with its focus on how the movie got made and almost didn’t. It goes over the many directors and writers who were involved and how Mamet’s script was initially rejected by the studio.
Also included is “Still Gallery” of behind-the-scenes photographs.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.