Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Produced by||David Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
|Screenplay by||David Mamet|
|Based on||The Verdict
by Barry Reed
|Edited by||Peter C. Frank|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
The Verdict is a 1982 courtroom drama film that tells the story of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer who takes a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing. The lawsuit involves a woman in a persistent vegetative state and is thus reminiscent of the Karen Ann Quinlan case. The film stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea and Lindsay Crouse.
The Verdict garnered critical acclaim and box office success. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Mason), Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Picture and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (David Mamet).
Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) was once a promising graduate of Boston College Law School and a lawyer at an elite Boston law firm. Some years back, he was framed by the senior partner of his law firm for a crime (jury tampering) he didn't commit. Although he retains his license to practice law, Frank is now an alcoholic ambulance chaser who has had only four cases over the last three years, all of which he has lost.
As a favor, his former teacher and friend Mickey (Jack Warden) sends him a medical malpractice case, where it's all but assured that the defense will settle for a large amount. The case involves a young woman who was given an anesthetic during childbirth, after which she choked on her own vomit and was deprived of oxygen. The young woman is now in a coma, on a respirator. Her sister and brother-in-law are hoping for a settlement to properly care for the victim, and Frank assures them they have a strong case. Meanwhile, Frank, who is lonely, becomes romantically involved with Laura (Charlotte Rampling), a woman he meets at a local bar.
Frank visits the comatose woman and is deeply affected. He then meets with the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, which owns the Catholic hospital where the incident took place. As expected, the Bishop's representative offers a substantial amount of money — $210,000 — to settle out of court, but Frank declines the offer as he fears that this may be his last chance to do something right as a lawyer, and that merely taking the handout would render him "lost." Everyone, including the presiding judge and the victim's relatives, is stunned by Frank's decision.
Things quickly go wrong for Frank: his client's brother-in-law finds out from "the other side" that he has turned down a $210,000 settlement, and angrily confronts Frank; his star medical expert disappears; a hastily arranged substitute's credentials and testimony are called into serious question on the witness stand. His opponent — the high-priced attorney Ed Concannon (James Mason) — has at his disposal a large legal team that is masterful with the press; the presiding judge (Milo O'Shea) makes deliberate efforts to obstruct Frank's questioning; and no one who was in the operating room is willing to testify that there was any negligence.
Frank's big break comes when he discovers that Caitlin Costello (Lindsay Crouse), the nurse who admitted his client to the hospital, is now living in New York. Frank travels to New York to track her down, leaving Mickey and Laura working together in Frank's Boston office. Frank confronts Costello, asking her, "Will you help me?" We don't see her answer.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, Mickey, is looking for cigarettes in Laura's handbag and discovers a check from Concannon's law firm. He infers that she is is a mole, providing information on their legal strategy to the opposing lawyers.
Mickey flies to New York to tell Frank that Laura has been betraying them. He suggests to Frank that it would be easy to get the case declared a mistrial, but Frank decides to continue. Shortly thereafter, Frank meets Laura, who has also traveled to New York. In a display of cold fury, Frank strikes her in the face, knocking her to the floor.
Towards the end of the trial, Frank calls upon Costello to testify.
In an emotional scene, Costello testifies that, shortly after the patient had become comatose, the anesthesiologist (one of the two doctors on trial, along with the Archdiocese of Boston) told her to change her notes on the admitting form to hide his fatal error. Specifically, she had written down that the patient had had a full meal only one hour before being admitted. The doctor had been so busy and so tired that night, he didn't read the admitting notes. Thus, in ignorance, he gave her an anesthetic that should never be given to a patient with a full stomach. As a result, the patient vomited and choked.
When he realized his mistake, he met with Costello in private and forced her to change the number "1" to the number "9" on her admitting notes. Before she did so, however, Costello managed to make a photocopy of the notes, which she brought with her to court. Costello's revelation stuns the courtroom.
Concannon, the lawyer representing the defendants, is surprised and distressed, implying that Laura had not told him about Frank's discovery of Costello.
Despite his obvious surprise, Concannon quickly regroups and — in a skillful, even brilliant argument — manages to get the judge to declare the nurse's testimony stricken from the record on technicalities. Although Frank's case now seems hopeless, he summons his inner strength and delivers a brief but moving closing argument, telling the jury "you are the law," and entreating them to seek "truth and justice" in their hearts before they vote.
In the penultimate scene, the jury — disregarding the judge's instructions to ignore the nurse's testimony — announces that they have found in favor of the plaintiffs (Frank's clients). The foreman then asks the judge whether the jury can award more than the amount sought by the plaintiffs. The judge resignedly replies that, yes, they can. As Frank is congratulated by his clients, Mickey, and colleagues and strangers alike, he catches a glimpse of Laura watching him from afar.
That night, Laura, in a drunken stupor on her bed, drops her whiskey on the floor, drags the phone toward her, and picks up the receiver. The final shot is of Frank in his office looking thoughtful, drinking coffee out of a paper cup, and ignoring the persistent ringing of his phone.
- Paul Newman as Frank Galvin
- Charlotte Rampling as Laura Fischer
- Jack Warden as Mickey Morrissey
- James Mason as Ed Concannon
- Milo O'Shea as Judge Hoyle
- Lindsay Crouse as Kaitlin Costello
- Edward Binns as Bishop Brophy
- Julie Bovasso as Maureen Rooney
- Roxanne Hart as Sally Doneghy
- James Handy as Kevin Doneghy
- Wesley Addy as Dr. Towler
- Joe Seneca as Dr. Thompson
- Lewis J. Stadlen as Dr. Gruber
- Kent Broadhurst as Joseph Alito
- Colin Stinton as Billy
- Tobin Bell as Courtroom Observer
- Bruce Willis as Courtroom Observer (uncredited)
Film rights to the novel were bought by the team of Richard Zanuck and David Brown. A number of actors, including Roy Scheider, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Dustin Hoffman, expressed interest in the project because of the strength of the lead role. Arthur Hiller was originally attached to direct and David Mamet hired to write a screenplay. Neither Zanuck-Brown or Hiller liked Mamet's script, so Hiller left the project and the producers commissioned another screenplay, from Jay Presson Allen. The producers liked this script and were approached by Robert Redford, who liked the project but did not like Allen's script. Redford suggested they hire James Bridges as a writer-director and Bridges wrote several drafts of the screenplay, but Redford was not happy with any of them and Bridges left the project. Redford then began having meetings with Sydney Pollack without telling the producers; irritated, they fired Redford.
Zanuck and Brown then hired Sidney Lumet to direct, sending him all versions of the script. After several rewrites, Lumet decided the story's original grittiness was fast devolving and chose Mamet's original script. This was agreed to by Paul Newman, who ultimately agreed to star.
Bruce Willis has an uncredited background appearance as an extra, in one of his first film appearances. After the verdict is read for the plaintiff, Willis can be seen, smiling, to the left of Newman's head. Tobin Bell also appears, to Newman's right.
The Verdict holds a 96% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. In a poll of 500 films held by Empire magazine, it was voted 254th Greatest Movie of all time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #91 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. Richard D. Pepperman praised the scene in which Judge Hoyle eats breakfast and offers Galvin coffee as "a terrific use of objects, making for a believable judge in his personal, comfortable and suitable place, as well as a Physical Action (motion) that demonstrates the subtext of the Judge's objective (in support of the insurance company, the doctor and their attorney) without an abundance of expository dialogue."
American Film Institute
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Frank Galvin – Nominated Hero
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – No. 75
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – No. 4 Courtroom Drama
- "The Verdict, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p260
- "The Verdict, Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
- William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 62-67
- Shawn Levy, Paul Newman: A Life, p 436.
- "The Verdict, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- "Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
- Savage, Sophia (February 27, 2013). "WGA Lists Greatest Screenplays, From 'Casablanca' and 'Godfather' to 'Memento' and 'Notorious'". Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Pepperman, Richard D. (2008). Film School: How to Watch DVDs and Learn Everything about Filmmaking. Michael Wiese Productions. pp. 184–185. ISBN 9781615930401. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
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