Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden
Trivia: Among the people in the courtroom during the dramatic closing speech is a young Bruce Willis.
Anyone who reads film reviews on a regular basis will have surely come across phrases like “one of his/her best performances”, “a role unlike any he/she has ever played before”, and “one of the finest actors/actresses ever to grace the screen” more times than they can possibly count (I know I myself have even used them on occasion). By now, such statements are, of course, total cliches, but every so often, a performance comes along that is simply staggering in its brilliance, and worthy of every bit of praise thrown its way. Paul Newman in The Verdict is definitely one of those times.
Alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin (Newman) was running out of chances to save his deteriorating career when the case of a lifetime fell into his lap. His good friend, Mickey (Jack Warden), put him in touch with Sally Doneghy (Roxanne Hart), who was bringing a medical malpractice suit against a Catholic-run hospital, claiming their negligence brought about her sister's irreversible coma. After accepting the case, Frank prepares for what he hopes will be a sizable settlement offer from the Archdiocese. But a visit to the young woman at the center of it all causes Frank to do something he hasn't done in a long time: get emotionally involved. He rejects all settlement offers and brings his case to court, where he finds himself up against Ed Concannon (James Mason), the hospital’s top lawyer and a man determined to win at all costs.
Throughout The Verdict, Newman maneuvers his character from scene to scene with absolute perfection . At the start, Frank Galvin is little more than an ambulance chaser, a man callous enough to show up at a wake pretending to be a friend of the deceased, then slyly slipping his business card to the grieving widow. The lowly state of his legal career is what's turned Frank into an alcoholic, an obvious case of self loathing over the depths to which he’s sunk. He no longer seems to care about anyone or anything, including himself. Then, he meets the girl who, because of negligence, will have to live as a vegetable the rest of her life. Seeing her causes something inside him to click, and all at once, the case becomes more than dollars and cents; it's his shot at redemption. Newman reveals every layer of this complex character in his usual nonchalant manner, refusing to overplay the dramatic or overstate the obvious. Much like his Cool Hand Luke, we see the depths of Frank Galvin’s soul simply by staring into Newman's eyes. There's anguish in them when he turns down the first settlement offer, but at the same time, we know accepting it would've been just as unbearable.
After watching Paul Newman in The Verdict, I have to say he delivered one of his best performances, playing a character unlike any he had played before, and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt he was one of the finest actors ever to grace the screen.
Hey, sometimes the cliches work!