The Verdict

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The Verdict
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySidney Lumet
Screenplay byDavid Mamet
Based onThe Verdict
1980 book
by Barry Reed
Produced byDavid Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
CinematographyAndrzej Bartkowiak
Edited byPeter C. Frank
Music byJohnny Mandel
Color processDeluxe Color
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 8, 1982 (1982-12-08)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$16 million[1][2]
Box office$54 million[3]

The Verdict is a 1982 American legal drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet. It is an adaptation of Barry Reed's 1980 novel of the same name. It stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. In the story, a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer accepts a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing.

The Verdict garnered critical acclaim and box office success. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Mason), and Best Adapted Screenplay (David Mamet).


Once-promising attorney Frank Galvin is an alcoholic ambulance chaser. As a favor, friend and former partner Mickey Morrissey sends him a medical malpractice case which is all but certain to be settled for a large amount. The case involves a young woman given general anesthesia during childbirth at a Catholic hospital, after which she choked on her vomit and was left comatose and on a ventilator. The plaintiffs, her sister and brother-in-law, intend to use the settlement to pay for her care.

Frank is deeply affected by a visit to the comatose woman's hospital room. Later, a representative of the Catholic diocese offers a substantial settlement. Without consulting the family, Frank declines and states his intention to take the case to trial, stunning all parties including the presiding Judge Hoyle. Afterwards, Frank meets a woman named Laura in a bar, and becomes romantically involved with her.

Frank's case experiences several setbacks: The hospital's high-priced attorney, Ed Concannon, has at his disposal a large legal team that is masterful with the press. His client's brother-in-law angrily confronts Frank after he learns from Concannon's team that Frank rejected the settlement. Frank's medical expert disappears before testifying, and a hastily-arranged substitute's credentials are called into question. Hoyle, who despises Frank, undermines his questioning of the substitute. No one who was in the operating room is willing to testify that negligence occurred.

In chambers during the trial, Hoyle threatens Frank with disbarment and arrest. Frank angrily dismisses the judge as a bagman and "defendant's judge" who couldn't "hack it" as a lawyer. He angrily leaves the judge's chambers and slams the door behind him.

Kaitlin Costello, the nurse who admitted Frank's client to the hospital, is now a pre-school teacher in New York City; Frank travels there to seek her help. As Laura hastily arranges to meet him, Mickey discovers a check from Concannon in her handbag and realizes Concannon is paying Laura to provide inside information on Galvin's legal strategy. Mickey flies to New York to tell Frank about Laura's betrayal; confronting her in a bar, Frank strikes Laura hard enough to knock her to the floor. Returning to Boston, Mickey suggests moving for a mistrial because of Concannon's ethics violations, but Frank decides to continue.

In the courtroom, Costello testifies that she wrote that the patient ate a full meal one hour before being admitted, contradicting her original note of nine hours. On cross-examination, an incredulous Concannon asks her how she can prove this; Costello reveals that before she made the change, she made a photocopy of the original note, and that she brought the copy to court. Concannon objects that for legal purposes, the original is presumed to be correct, but Hoyle unexpectedly reserves judgment. Costello testifies that the anesthesiologist later confessed to her that he had failed to read her admitting notes and administered general anesthesia, which is not proper for someone who ate only an hour previously. As a result, the patient vomited and choked. When the anesthesiologist realized his error, he threatened to end Costello's career if she did not change the "1" to a "9”.

After Costello is dismissed, Concannon again objects on the grounds that the original has precedence. The judge agrees and declares Costello's testimony stricken from the record. Afterwards a diocese lawyer praises Concannon's performance to the bishop, who then asks, "But do you believe her?" — and is met with embarrassed silence.

Despite believing his case is hopeless, Frank gives a brief but passionate closing argument. The jury finds in favor of Frank's client and the foreman asks the judge whether the jury can award more than the amount the plaintiffs sought; the judge resignedly replies that they can. As Frank is congratulated outside the courtroom, he catches a glimpse of Laura watching him from across the atrium before vanishing.

That night, a drunk Laura drops her whiskey on the floor, drags her phone towards her and dials Frank's number. As his office phone rings, Frank sits with a cup of coffee. He moves to answer the call but then stops and lets the phone continue to ring.



Film rights to Reed’s 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 while David Mamet hired to write a screenplay.[4]

Though Mamet had already made a name for himself in the theater, he was still new to screenwriting. The producers were uncertain whether Mamet would take the job given the standards he set with his own previous work, but according to Lindsay Crouse, who was then married to Mamet, the film was actually a big deal for him. Crouse also recalled Mamet struggling initially with Galvin's closing summation, but he finally came up with the scene after staying up an entire evening working on it.[5]

Mamet's original draft ended the film right after the jury left the courtroom for deliberations, giving no resolution to the case. Neither Zanuck and Brown believed they could make the film without showing what happened, and Zanuck met with Mamet to convince him to re-write the ending. However, Mamet told Zanuck that the ending he wanted was "old-fashioned" and would hurt the film. He also reacted negatively to Zanuck's use of sarcasm to make his point, as Zanuck claimed his copy of the script was missing its final pages before telling Mamet the film title would need a question mark after it.[5]

Hiller did not like Mamet's script either and left the project. The producers commissioned another screenplay from Jay Presson Allen, which they preferred, and they were later approached by Robert Redford to star in the film when he obtained a copy of the script from Allen.[6][5]

Redford suggested they hire James Bridges as a writer-director, and he had Bridges write several drafts of the screenplay, more or less sanitizing the lead character as he was concerned about playing a hard-drinking womanizer.[5][7] Neither the producers nor Redford were happy with the rewrites and soon Bridges left the project. Redford then began having meetings with Sydney Pollack without telling the producers; irritated, they fired Redford.[8]

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.[9] Lumet recalled that they had to rework only one or two scenes, mainly giving the trial a resolution as Zanuck and Brown had originally requested. Unlike Zanuck, when Lumet approached Mamet, he was able to get his approval to make that change to his original work.[5]

Lumet then personally cast Warden and Mason, both of whom he had worked with before. In Mason's case, he wasn't sure if the renowned actor would be willing to take a supporting role, but Mason liked Mamet's script so much that he did not object.[5]

Before shooting began, Lumet held extensive dress rehearsals, which was standard practice for Lumet's films but not common on Hollywood productions. Newman was very appreciative as they proved crucial in developing his performance, giving him the time he needed to tap into the emotional bankruptcy of his character.[10]

At one point during production, Newman barely avoided injury and possible death when a light estimated to weigh several hundred pounds fell about three feet away from him after breaking through the wooden planks holding it up. The planks were believed to have been weakened by overnight exposure to rainfall.[10]

Bruce Willis and Tobin Bell have uncredited background appearances.[11] They are seated next to each other as extras in the final courtroom scene.[11]

The producers were reluctant to keep the scene where Newman strikes Rampling, believing it would turn the audience against his character and even damage his public image. However Newman insisted on keeping it, believing it was right for the film.[10]

After the film was finished, the studio's executives sent Lumet several suggestions and urged him to shoot a new ending when Newman's character picks up the phone, but Zanuck relayed to them that Lumet had final cut and the film would remain as-is.[5]


Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 89%, with an average rating of 7.8/10, based on 35 reviews. The website's "Critics Consensus" for the film reads: "Paul Newman is at the peak of his powers as an attorney who never lived up to his potential in The Verdict, supported by David Mamet's crackling script and Sidney Lumet's confident direction."[12] In a poll of 500 films held by Empire magazine, it was voted 254th Greatest Movie of all time.[13] In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay No. 91 on its list of the "101 greatest screenplays ever written".[14] 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."[15]

The film opened in 3 theaters in New York City and grossed $143,265 in its first 5 days.[16] The following weekend it expanded to 615 screens and grossed $2,331,805, finishing seventh for the weekend,[17] and went on to gross $54 million.[3]

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Verdict". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989, p. 260
  3. ^ a b "The Verdict". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  4. ^ William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 62-67
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict (featurette). 20th Century Fox. 2007.
  6. ^ William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 62-67
  7. ^ William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 62-67
  8. ^ William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1982 p 62-67
  9. ^ Shawn Levy, Paul Newman: A Life, p 436.
  10. ^ a b c Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict (featurette). AMC. 2001.
  11. ^ a b Jokic, Natasha (January 8, 2022). "15 Super-Famous Actors Who You Might Be Surprised Started Off As Extras". BuzzFeed. New York, NY.
  12. ^ "The Verdict". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  13. ^ "Empire's The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire. Archived from the original on September 8, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2012.
  14. ^ "WGA Lists Greatest Screenplays, From 'Casablanca' and 'Godfather' to 'Memento' and 'Notorious'". Archived from the original on November 30, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Major Openings Bolster B.O.". Daily Variety. December 14, 1982. p. 1.
  17. ^ Ginsberg, Steven (December 21, 1982). "'Tootsie,' 'Toy' And 'Dark Crystal' Win Big At National Box-Office". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  18. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-11-04. Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-03-16. Retrieved 2016-08-14.
  20. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Courtroom Drama". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2016-08-14.

External links[edit]