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20th Century Fox presents
The Verdict (CE) (1982)

"There are no other cases. This is the case."
- Frank Galvin (Paul Newman)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: June 18, 2007

Stars: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason
Director: Sidney Lumet

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 02h:08m:49s
Release Date: June 12, 2007
UPC: 024543372295
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B-B+ B

DVD Review

As a younger man, Paul Newman's matinee idol looks could overshadow what an accomplished actor he is—he was movie star handsome with the Actors Studio chops of Marlon Brando or Rod Steiger, and continued to seek out the best material. The years gave a cragginess to his face, and it feels like he became even more accomplished at his craft—rather than the wasted opportunities and work for hire you see in Brando's later decades, Newman cherry picked his projects carefully, and invariably he delivered the goods. (I speak about his career in the past tense only because he recently announced that he's retired from acting.) I don't know that he's ever given a better performance than he did in The Verdict—not only does he create a character of extraordinary dimensionality, but, despite the fact that he's surrounded by lots of talent, he's asked to shoulder a huge amount of the load. But it's a tale ultimately of redemption—and to be redeemed, one first has to sin, and Newman is brutally true both as he scrapes the depths and reaches for a more worthy path.

This is in many ways a deeply conventional genre piece, a legal drama, one of the staples of both film and television for decades—but Newman and his cohorts on screen elevate the almost soapy raw material, and are ably aided by director Sidney Lumet, cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, and especially by a deftly efficient screenplay by David Mamet. Newman plays Frank Galvin, an ambulance-chasing Boston lawyer who has hit the skids—breakfast is frequently doughnuts and Bushmill's, and he's thrown out of more than one funeral parlor for harassing the mourners, looking for work. The opportunity for redemption, for grace, comes with the case of a lifetime, delivered to him by his profane angel and onetime mentor, played by Jack Warden: Frank is to represent the family of a perfectly healthy young woman who went into a tony hospital (clearly modeled on Mass General) to deliver her third child, and came out in an irreversible, persistent vegetative state. Did the doctors do everything they could to save a woman facing medical jeopardy? Or were they cavalier and did they administer the wrong anaesthetic, causing the irreparable harm themselves? If Frank can convince the jury of the latter, he'll not only win a fortune for the woman and her family, but senses that in the process he can save his own soul.

Newman inhabits this character completely, and refuses to knock the edges off the guy—Frank can be a bastard, a mean drunk, selfish, violent, and relentlessly self-destructive, and Newman puts himself through the sort of hell that lots of actors of his stature would happily step around for decades in a continuing quest only to be loved. He also gets great support, not only from Warden, who is gruff but remains Frank's fiercest human connection, but from a galaxy of fine actors. Charlotte Rampling has a smoky, moody sultriness as the inevitable love interest—like Frank, she's been wounded by the world, and she's got more than her share of secrets. James Mason is devilishly charming as opposing counsel, the bowtied Goliath to Frank's David; and Milo O'Shea is the stuff of a lawyer's nightmares as a bastard of a judge.

The story, obviously, can be kind of somber, but it brings out the best in Lumet, who works with his customary efficiency—it lacks the lunacy and mania of pictures like Dog Day Afternoon and Network, working instead in more muted tones; and it's got a wonderful sense of place, too. (As with a movie like The Departed, it's kind of funny to see a filmmaker so identified with New York do some of his best work on a story set in Boston.) And there's a soulfulness to Mamet's writing that we're unaccustomed to, especially from this period—it's more somber than American Buffalo, and not as staccato and profanity-laden as Glengarry Glen Ross, but in many ways is much more powerful.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Bartkowiak's cinematography is stellar—he and Lumet make great use of master shots, and move the camera fluidly and unobtrusively. Their carefully worked out color scheme gets let down somewhat with this transfer, though, which lacks details and offers colors that are sometimes downright garish. The opening credits—with red letters on a black background—early and amply demonstrate the shortcomings of the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer is more or less inconspicuous, which is a good thing—dialogue is generally crisp and clear, and well balanced with soundtrack and atmosphere.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, From the Terrace, Hombre, The Hustler, The Long, Hot Summer, Quintet, The Towering Inferno, What a Way to Go!
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Sidney Lumet, with Paul Newman
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. stills gallery
Extras Review: This two-disc Collector's Edition supplants a previous release of the title. Disc 1 holds the feature and offers a commentary—though Newman gets equal billing, he appears on the track for no more than five minutes, and doesn't even pop up until close to two hours into the run of the picture. But that's actually fine, because Lumet talks at length and most intelligently for the rest of the time. He's got lots of kind words for Newman and for Mamet, and discusses working with Bartkowiak on a lighting scheme inspired by Caravaggio. There's also the usual talk on the evolution of the project, and Lumet gives away some trade secrets by cluing us in that lots of these Boston locations were actually shot in New York.

Disc 2 has five documentaries that offer some insight and a fair amount of redundancies. The Making of The Verdict (09m:06s) was produced for the film's theatrical release, and includes interview footage with Newman, Mason, Warden, and Barry Reed, on whose novel the picture is based. The leading man reflects on his character and the project in Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting (08m:45s), and the man behind the lens follows the same template in Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing (10m:47s). Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict (23m:14s) adds new interviews with producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, as well as with Lindsay Crouse, who plays a pivotal role in the third act, and Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict (22m:06s) goes over some of the development of the project (Robert Redford was attached at one point, as was Dustin Hoffman) along with much of the same production history. The stills gallery offers some candids from the set, and finally there's a Newman trailer gallery. Also, a goofy computer-generated gavel pounds over the main menu.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A strong and moving genre piece from an assembly of talent on both sides of the camera—it's not a film afraid to plumb the psychological depths, and the payoffs are numerous. Paul Newman has always had the good sense to seek out the best material and collaborators, and he, Lumet, Mamet and a raft of others have a made a character study that's hopeful without flinching from the darkness.


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