The Verdict (1982)

Drinkin’ in the courtrooooooom.

A washed-up, ambulance-chasing attorney (Paul Newman) gets a chance at redemption when his friend (Jack Warden) tosses him an open-and-shut medical malpractice case. But instead of accepting an easy cash settlement, he takes the powerful defendant to court. James Mason plays the opposing counsel, whom his legal adversary calls “The Prince of Darkness”.

Director Sidney Lumet is a favorite of mine and even his films that aren’t amazingly great, are still OK even if they may be nothing new.

This is a courtroom drama that isn’t really all about an up-lifting story that’s high on inspiration and corny lines. It’s more about this guy who actually gains a lot of self-esteem through this one case and has a new out-look on life. Yeah, it still sounds pretty cheesy but I can assure you, farthest thing from really.

The script done by David Mamet is good although it seems too much like a stage play, rather than an actual full-length feature film. However, there are moments where he shows brilliance whether it’s Newman yelling an annoying judge, Newman and his girl getting into a yelling match, or any of the courtroom scenes, Mamet seems like he knows exactly how he wants to say everything, and it works out very well here. With this film, there’s also a portrayal of how dark the legal system can actually be. Sometimes, not all the time, sometimes it’s not all about who’s right or who’s wrong, it’s actually about the money and who is going to get a certain amount for the decisions to be made. I thought this was a pretty bold point to show, and very cool to see in a courtroom drama like this one.

Lumet is also good with his direction here because he uses the slow-burn process well to where the story is built up the whole entire time, to the point where the last 10 minutes of the film keep you on your seat the whole time. Lumet also uses a bunch of silences and awkward pauses in-between all of these conversations these character’s have to give it a real-life feel.

However, the problem with this direction is that I really didn’t feel like this film was actually going anywhere. It didn’t mind the slow-pace because I thought it actually helped the film, but for a long long time I didn’t feel gripped by this story at all. I almost just felt like I was watching Newman do these little lawyers thing-a-ma-jigs here and there and I wasn’t wondering just what was going to happen next. The whole sub-plot with Newman and his lady-friend, played by Lindsay Crouse, I felt was a little weird and didn’t add much to the film other than a really cool scene that I think I already gave away but when you see it, it’s pretty cool I must say.

Paul Newman is very very good in this lead role as Frankie Glavin. Glavin is just a guy who wants to do right but is such a bum and so out of it when it comes to getting this course case done, he feels pressured and almost out-of-sorts. He once had it all, then he soon lost it all, and is now trying to win it all back. This is a great character, and a character that Newman plays so well. Newman’s delivery of his famously stirring closing argument, is a career highlight and probably my favorite scene from this film, other than the one I came close to mentioning. There is also another good performance from James Mason as Ed Concannon, and he practically made me want to punch his face in. That is a good thing too. Also, be on the look-out for a young Bruce Willis in the background of the film by the end. That bastard always shows up in the most random places!

Consensus: The Verdict has good performances, especially Paul Newman and a good script that keeps the story going with it’s slow-pace, but it doesn’t really start to gain momentum, until the last act where something just didn’t feel like I was taken along with this story.



  1. Hi Dan –

    I’m not in full agreement with you. This was considered a top-notch film – with Sidney Lumet receiving a nomination for Best Director, Newman for Best Actor, and Mason for Best Supporting actor. The film also received nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay (adapted). The American Film Institute rates this film as the 4th best all time in trial films rating it behind To Kill A Mocking Bird, 12 Angry Men, and Kramer vs Kramer. In fact they had it ahead of A Few Good Men which was another film about a lawyer finding his way quite late in the film.

    Maybe the picture seemed slow because Newman had to portray an alcoholic who seemingly was just drifting through his life, and almost blew the case. But while the trial portion was exciting it was kind of manipulative (as are most trial films). Milo O’Shea was the evil judge and he gave every break to the defense representing the hospital and the archdiocise. Another guy that was great was Ed Binns as the Cardinal.

    I guess I liked it much better than you did. But thanks for the fine review.


  2. Oh man I love The Verdict. Just take the opening scene, which in my mind is one of the great character introductions in film history. Paul Newman, playing pinpall, drinking slowly. The man is acting…with his shoulders.

    Your criticisms are definitely valid – the movie has pacing issues and other faults, but I think Newman and Mamet save it.

  3. I’m with you on this one Dan, I love everyone involved but ultimately this one was a bit of a disappointment for me. It drags its feet for the most part and relies too heavily on drunken shtick that, for me, failed to ever land; though I’m not one who’s ever really been entertained by inebriated characters or films, I guess I just can’t empathize.

    When they hit the courtroom however all of that turns around, Mamet knows how to write cracking dialogue and Lumet knows how to film it like no other; these scenes are deserving of the films reputation as a classic.

    I guess what I like in film is seeing the best of the best: the smartest people in their boldest moments. For me Mad Men hits its peak when Don does, on the pitching field, and usually drops in turn when he hits a drunk funk. Of course there is a place for these stories, an audience too but given the choice I know which side I would fall on.

  4. I really liked this movie a lot, but the ending ruined it for me. That would not happen in real life and if it did they would go to court again as the jury based their judgement on something they weren’t allowed to do. It really disappointed me.

  5. One of my favorite Newman films. I just saw it again recently and I can see where today’s audience – having been raised on legal dramas on TV – are a bit more savvy about what would actually happen in the courtroom and may find the ending a bit disappointing. When the movie first ran, that was not the case.

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