I'd like to spank the Academy

The Verdict (1982)

theverdictDirected by Sidney Lumet

I first recognized the existence of The Verdict when it was added to Netflix a little while back. It had Paul Newman! As a drunken lawyer! I had high hopes for it, but when I realized it was a best picture nominee, I made myself wait to watch it until I was actually reviewing the movies of 1982. When I finally got to watch it, I was so disappointed. It’s not terrible, but there’s nothing fabulously special about it, either.

So what’s the story? Ambulance-chasing lawyer Frank Galvin is a rather despicable man. He goes to funerals and tries to drum up business from widows. He spends most of his time drinking and reading the obituaries trying to find his next client. When an ex-partner takes pity on him and sends him an open-and-shut case that will settle out of court, Frank surprises everyone, even himself, when he decides to fight for his client truly deserves instead of taking the easy settlement.

The Good: Paul Newman is fantastic, as always. I’m not used to disliking him, so the first twenty minutes or so of the movie were kind of hard to watch. He’s good at playing a jerk. But the moment that he realizes that his client deserves more was a great bit of acting. I love watching actors show us what is going through their characters’ heads. He does a fabulous job throughout the rest of the movie, showing Frank’s frustration and triumph, nervousness and despair. It’s a very good bit of acting.

The supporting actors were just as good, with Charlotte Rampling playing Galvin’s new love interest, Laura; James Mason playing high-powered opposing attorney Ed Concannon; and Jack Warden as Galvin’s old friend and ex-partner Mickey Morrissey. They were all solid in complicated roles.

I loved the very ending of the movie. It wasn’t the typical ending for a movie like this, and I was glad, because if they had gone with what typically happens, what power this movie had would have been lost. It is so hard to write intelligibly about endings when you are trying so hard not to include spoilers, so please forgive me. But the ending packs a punch.

The Bad: I wouldn’t say it was bad, per se, but the story has nothing new to say. It felt in some ways like a reworking of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with Frank Galvin being incompetent instead of naïve like Mr. Smith. In other ways, it was a completely normal courtroom drama, with just the little twist of Galvin’s alcoholism being added.

The Ugly: Because it was so typical, The Verdict didn’t have much of an impact on me. There was nothing I could get worked up over. I was bothered all the way through the movie that Jack Warden didn’t have a moustache, because he looks like the kind of guy who would have one, but that was just a slight annoyance. I was more puzzled over this movie’s best picture nomination than anything else, and that’s not ugliness, just confusion. I expect more from a best picture nominee.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Paul Newman); best actor in a supporting role (James Mason); best director; best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.

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