Paul Newman stars as a down and out attorney in 'The Verdict,' arguably his best performance ever. The movie is directed by another Hollywood legend, Sidney Lumet, who also helmed the great courtroom-themed drama 12 Angry Men as well as numerous other movie classics.
Newman plays Frank Galvin, who was once a big shot lawyer until an incident with the firm he was working for got him sent to jail and nearly disbarred. He's now little more than an "ambulance chaser," looking up the obituaries in the newspaper and then showing up at funeral homes to give his card to grieving widows. If his way of making a living wasn't sad enough, Frank is also an alcoholic.
Frank gets a spark of good luck when a medical malpractice case finds its way to his doorstep. The victim is a young woman now rendered as little more than a vegetable, after going into cardiac arrest while under anesthesia. The lead attorney (played by James Mason) representing the hospital offers Frank a $210,000 settlement but, much to the dismay of Frank's clients (the sister and brother-in-law of the victim), Frank declines the offer and decides to take the case to court. He tells the victim's family that he believes he can get a much better settlement, but it's obvious that this isn't just about winning the case for Frank, it's about doing one good thing in his life. It's about redemption.
It quickly becomes obvious to Frank that the deck is stacked against him. The judge (Milo O'Shea, who sadly passed on just a few weeks before this review was written) has a history of favoring defendants and can't believe Frank is turning down the settlement, and the lawyers for the other side are well-financed and not below using every means at their dispense to win the case. Even Frank's new girlfriend, Laura (Charlotte Ramping), may not be all that she appears to be.
Although it's full of courtroom drama, 'The Verdict' is anything but a typical courtroom movie. There are no great speeches here, no Perry Mason-like confessions on the stand. In fact, when the courtroom proceedings do lead to a revelation in the case, the evidence is quickly dismissed by the judge as inadmissible. Granted, much of this is Lumet's (and screenplay writer David Mamet's) commentary on our broken legal system (even more broken in the thirty-plus years that have passed since this film's release), but at the heart of 'The Verdict' is an examination of Frank Galvin. His profession and the story just serve as methods of examining this broken man and his effort to heal himself.
Newman's performance here is simply one for the ages, as he plays a guy that all viewers should instantly dislike, but whom we can't help but sympathize with – largely due to the fact that he's played by Paul Newman. Lumet often just locks his camera into one position for an entire scene, knowing the strength of his performers doesn't need any extra camera tricks or movements to enhance them. Both men were nominated for Academy Awards (as was the movie itself, co-star James Mason, and writer David Mamet), but the movie was shut-out that year, with most of the victories going to 'Gandhi.' Does anyone out there still think Ben Kingsley's performance in that movie is better than what Newman gives here? Not this jury member.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox has packed 'The Verdict' into an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, which houses only the single disc. There are no front-loaded trailers or other advertisements prior to the menu, which is simply a still of Paul Newman with the menu options along the bottom of the screen. All of the bonus features (which are detailed further below) are simply ported over from the 2007 DVD edition of the movie, and none have been updated to HD.
Since 20th Century Fox has done so with some recent releases of older films, I was hoping 'The Verdict' would have been given a complete restoration for its debut on Blu-ray. Sadly, the same master that was used for the 2007 release appears to have been used for this Blu-ray. Granted, the movie looks much better in high-def, but it's not without some noticeable issues.
While there's a healthy amount of grain in every shot (which movie purists will probably enjoy), there's also a good amount of "dirt" (those little black and white flecks) on the print that will prove to be a distraction depending on the size of your TV screen. While skin tones and contrast are for the most part (but not always) balanced throughout, there is a noticeable difference between some scenes showing a great amount of detail, while others appear quite soft. Edge enhancement is also occasionally an issue, as objects often have halos around them. Blacks are somewhat crushed in places, as well, making shadows indistinguishable.
Which is not to say this is a horrible transfer…I've seen much worse of older films. Still, when you have a movie as high in quality as 'The Verdict,' you'd like to see the studio give it the respect it deserves. Sadly, the video quality here barely passes as what I'd call "acceptable" for an older movie (and keep in mind, this isn't a relic from the black and white age, 'The Verdict" came out in 1982).
The audio fares better than the video, but considering the movie's original theatrical presentation was in 1.0 mono, there was nowhere to go but up. Here, English listeners have the option of either a 5.1 or a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and other than the occasional use of music in the film (of which there is very little), there's very little difference between the two. The 5.1 track makes little use of the rear speakers, with everything coming from up front on one's set-up. With that in mind, there's little to complain about, and I could detect no popping, hissing, or other defects in the track.
In addition to the English track mentioned above, Fox has provided numerous audio options in other languages, consisting of Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0, French DTS 5.1, Spanish (Castilian) DTS-HD 1.0, German DTS 5.1, and Italian DTS-HD 1.0. The subtitle selection is also quite generous, made up of English (SDH), Spanish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish, in addition to subtitles for the included audio commentary in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Italian.
This is a tough call for me, as the movie itself is undoubtedly one of Newman and Lumet's best, yet there is so much evidence here of a disc that was rushed to market, rather taking the time to give it the love and care it deserved. I can forgive Fox for not providing new bonus materials (after all, Newman, Lumet, James Mason, Jack Warden, and producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck have all gone to that big courtroom in the sky), but it really is a shame that a movie this good couldn't get a more attentive transfer. Even then, I think the quality of the film itself trumps any nitpicking over the video quality. My verdict? Recommended (with an appeal for a new trial sometime down the road).