Thursday, June 23, 2011

1982 - The Verdict

As I write this, I am surrounded by boxes and bags, full of Kat's and my belongings, in preparation for our apartment move next week. I cannot express how much I abhor moving, and yet somehow, I seem to have moved every couple of years. Interestingly, even though we are staying in the same neighbourhood - our new apartment is only about a mile away from our current one - the move from Australia to the States seemed somewhat easier. Sure, there were all sorts of administrative things to worry about then, but the actual transport of our belongings was rendered much simpler by the fact that we just bought all our furniture anew. Thus, all we really brought with us from Sydney were clothes. Now, we have a whole apartment of stuff to schlep. How did we accumulate so many things in just two years?

Next up in 1982's selection of Best Picture nominees is...


The Verdict
Director:
Sidney Lumet
Screenplay:
David Mamet
(based on the novel by Barry Reed)
Starring:
Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, Lindsay Crouse
Academy Awards:
5 nominations
0 wins

Frank Galvin (Newman) is barely a lawyer and mostly an alcoholic. When he's not at the bar drinking and playing pinball, he scours for business at strangers' funerals. Yep, he's an ambulance-chaser, and he's not even very good at that. Fortunately, his friend Mickey (Warden) sets Frank up with a case he can't lose - a medical malpractice suit involving a young woman who fell into a coma. Both the hospital and the victim's family are keen to settle out of court, but Frank unexpectedly refuses the generous settlement to take the case to trial - something about "doing the right thing". With the ruthless Ed Concannon (Mason) as opposing counsel and the unsympathetic Judge Hoyle (O'Shea) presiding, Frank has his work cut out for him. Somehow, amid this incredible workload, he also manages to begin a relationship with the intelligent yet mysterious Laura Fischer (Rampling), who is not entirely who she seems.

I must admit, I do love a good Sidney Lumet film. The sadly Oscarless director was nominated for his deft hand here, another fine example of his subtle style. Nothing is ever forced down the audience's throat. On the one hand, he uses abundant wide shots, allowing us to witness the entire scene unfold. On the other hand, he lingers on simple yet meaningful looks, leaving us to solve the puzzle on our own. The credit for the effectiveness of those wordless moments must also be given to Oscar-nominated scribe David Mamet and his artfully expressive screenplay.

If I were to find fault anywhere in this fine picture, it would have to be with the initial stages of Frank's relationship with Laura. This subplot's connection to the rest of the narrative seemed somehow strained. I even pondered whether Charlotte Rampling's character was even necessary at all. Until, of course, the twist that makes Laura's existence in the story abundantly clear. Only then does she become a truly fascinating study. Perhaps part of the problem early on is that unusually grave and overly dramatic score underneath the scenes between Frank and Laura. So much like a horror movie score, in fact, that I almost expected Laura to peel off her face and reveal an alien underneath.

In any case, that's a relatively minor issue in what is honestly an excellent film. Paul Newman (pictured) carries the film superbly with a reflective and sensitive (and Oscar-nominated) performance. The ever watchable James Mason also garnered a nomination for himself delivering a delightfully restrained portrayal of an obstinately driven lawyer. Rounding out the cast are Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden and Milo O'Shea, each with exceptional performances. And keen-eyed viewers will spot a pre-stardom Bruce Willis appearing as an extra in the final courtroom scene.

2 comments:

  1. The first solid contender for best of 1982, this is on of Sidney Lumet's courtroom dramas that showcases superior acting and an involving script from David Mamet. There are no traces of the Newman swagger from Hud or the rebelliousness of his Cool Hand Luke. Frankie Galvin is a down-and-out has-been, hoping for redemption. Newman is superb here, showing his insecurities and weakness as never before. There's also a fine supporting cast, including two guys from Lumet's first film: Edward Binns, playing the Archbishop and Jack Warden as Newman's assistant. They were Jurors 6 and 7 respectively in Twelve Angry Men.

    I concur that Charlotte Rampling was more plot device than character. Her acting was fine, but I don't think she was utilized as effectively as she could have been.

    While I try to make a point of being attuned to the musical score in film, I must say Matt, that you are particularly aware of the score's emotional affect on a scene and whether or not it is appropriate. In Sidney Lumet's book, "Making Movies," he rather surprisingly does not refer to The Verdict that often. One mention, however is in the chapter on music. While he doesn't specifically address the scenes between Newman and Rampling, he does provide this comment:

    "I want the score to say something that nothing else in the picture is saying. For instance, in The Verdict, nothing much was ever revealed about Paul Newman's background. At one point there's an indication that he went through a rough divorce and was the fall guy for his father-in-laws shady law firm. But we dealt with nothing in his youth or childhood. I told [composer] Johnny Mandel that I wanted the deep, buried sound of a religious childhood: parochial school, children's church choir. He was possibly an acolyte. Since the picture was about this man's resurrection, he had to have been brought up religiously, so he would have somewhere to fall from. The picture could then be about his return to faith. The score's function was to provide the state of grace from which to fall." Maybe Mandel watched The Omen before he wrote the score :)

    For me, The Verdict will be one of three nominees vying for the top prize at the end.

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  2. That's interesting. So, it seems he wanted the score to be more than just complementary. Still, I think perhaps my interpretation of the music is not quite what he intended... :-)

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