Title: The Verdict
Director: Sidney Lumet
Music: Johnny Mandel
Cinematography: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Lewis J. Stadlen
Another courtroom drama from the director who brings us 12 ANGRY MEN (1957), Sydney Lumet inducted Paul Newman into a performance of his lifetime, but as usual the Academy members thought otherwise.
As anyone who is familiar with the pattern of an underdog’s courtroom victory, THE VERDICT is strictly following the procedure, Newman plays Frank Galvin, a washed-out ambulance chaser who receives a wake-up call in his fifties, stands up for his client just for once, for justice. Needless to say it is a lopsided trial, Frank and his aid-cum-mentor Mickey (Warden), whose plaintiff is a woman in a vegetative state, versus two cocky defendants (both well-respected doctors) and their stellar defense team, led by a top-notch attorney Ed Concannon (Mason).
Apart from his omni-competent opponent, Frank has to endured a worst-case scenario during his rushed preparation for the trial, the disappearance of a key witness, an uncooperative insider, a maledictory judge (O’Shea), a questionable deponent (Seneca), a hostile client (the plaintiff’s brother in law) who takes umbrage at Frank’s arbitrary turndown of a handsome settlement from the defendant for their medical negligence. And it is a miracle he could still squeeze some time to have a fling with a mysterious divorcée Laura (Rampling).
Things will nonetheless turns to a rosy side for Frank, as his trials and tribulations will eventually pay off, which doesn’t prevent one from sensing frustration to witness all the paddings before a bleak light of hope comes to the rescue, a dogged Frank fortuitously grabs a clue lead to a game-changer in the accident, but meanwhile an unexpected betrayal is the last blow to complicate the case. And the ending with an prolonged and irritating ringing of the telephone, does certify a stark love-or-hate stance for its audiences.
However, Newman is impeccable here, he is a pampered child living in an adult’s body, strives for his last chance to revive his life, a salvation of his ill-fated past, during the taxing process, he also begins to examine himself, to overcome his weakness (a terrific rendition of a panic attack) and reflect his goodness from the pestilent barriers around him and around us too, one long-take of him making a phone call with his adversary manifests Newman’s top-tier stretch in bringing authentic force of emerging into his character.
Preciously, the film is not an outward feel-good film, Rampling’s stern-cum-icy presence and Laura’s underdeveloped storyline mars the narrative but at the same time mirrors Frank’s own rite-of-passage, so we might not feel much relieved when at the end of the day he won the case, it intrigues us more after the victory, what is next for Frank?
James Mason is Oscar-nominated along with Newman and the film in toto seized five nominations (including BEST PICTURE and DIRECTOR), his malevolent silver-tongue and smug sanctimony is spot-on, a paradigm of the miasma of our legal system. But Warden in my opinion is also Oscar-worthy, restrained yet faithfully being a helping hand and a firm buttress for both Frank and the spectators!