The Verdict stars Paul Newman and is directed by Sidney Lumet. I read quite a bit about the film while I was reading the Lumet authored “Making Movies”, probably a year ago. While I took to “Murder on the Orient Express” immediately and then fell into a delicious affair with Hercule Poirot films, The Verdict and a few other films of his, that come just as highly recommended, were ignored. Recently, as I was taking a dip in court room dramas, The Verdict came up as high as the top five on almost all the lists that I could find online. As I started to watch this film, I realized that it wouldn’t be like any other court room drama that I had watched up till that time. It had practically no background score and it developed rather slowly but I waited patiently to be rewarded in the Sidney Lumet sort of a way (Much Like I was watching “Murder on the Orient Express”) and boy! I was impressed.
The film tells the story of Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), an ageing lawyer who has been out of sorts with his profession for while. The initial sequences show us how he has been attending the funerals of prospective big shots to salvage a deal or two but has been mostly unsuccessful. He soon gets a case of medical malpractice to settle but he sees merit in the case and feels that this case could be his chance at redeeming his future as a lawyer and also getting his client a bigger sum of money for their sufferings. He feels himself in the driver’s seat for a while and things look bright. However, soon, he realizes the power of the lobby that he is up against when they get his star witness and he is left with little to go after the accused. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.
The Verdict is a film which has its protagonist almost all the way in a spot of bother. Never for a second do you believe that he will be able to pull through what he does in the end. He starts off in manner reminiscent of a fluke, thinking that he is in control. Then he lands a surprise witness who he believes will seal the case for him. However he loses him as fast as he found him. The replacement that he finds for the witness does more damage than salvage his case. If that was not enough, he has an informant in his home of whome he learns off right in the end. All these factors contribute in making the situation nail bitingly tense. The fact that there is no background score, no jumpy editing and almost no tools are used to guide the audience’s emotions, every feeling that you feel seeing the visuals and dialogs are your own and have been extracted primarily by the performances.
There is a scene in the film, where Galvin’s character realizes that he has lost his primary witness and wants to get back the bargain with his opposite party. We see it through a one sided telephonic conversation and all that we have to understand his predicament is Newman’s performance. This sequence highlighted for me the sublime prowess of the performance that Newman brings to the table. I was mesmerized by his act. It’s not like he was not doing a great job earlier but from this scene onwards he takes on a different path. The climax was just as heart wrenching as you could possibly fathom. The scenes that Newman shares with Laura (Charlotte Rampling), a woman that he has evidently picked up and one who seems to have every reason to stick with him, are dramatic and subtle. The later discoveries about her also add dimensions to their relation. I also loved James Mason’s act as the defense attorney. He is cold. He is calculative. He is foxy. He shows the traits of destroying his opposition albeit keeping a straight and smiling face throughout the process of doing it. This wouldn’t have been the same film without his terrific act.
The trial in itself is captivating but not in a fast paced thriller sort of a way. The case moves at a slow pace and you have to invest in the screenplay if you want to actually get a grasp of the power of the drama on display. However the final verdict will bring a smile or two on the face of one and all. There is a hell of a twist towards the end which really caught me off guard but came as a welcome slice of luck for our poor Mr. Galvin who hasn’t been having any for almost the duration of the film.
The film is shot wonderfully. Even though it unfolds almost completely inside rooms and innards of court rooms, the DOP keeps the visuals interesting. I loved the way they light the rooms. They have successfully found sweet spots where the hue and luminosity is just about perfect to convey subtle visual nuances. The background score is almost absent and hence cannot be commented about. This is a film that grows on you gradually. It starts slow and with time envelops you into the narrative primarily through the performances and the drama that it is able to build.
For all those with a penchant for courtroom dramas or just dramas as a whole, I dare say that it is a near un-miss-able film. For all the rest, except the testosterone charged junkies, it is an extremely watchable film. It is the kind of film that makes you think about acquiring a new taste. Just give it enough time to build in to your sense.
Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)