Verdict, The (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie checks out this release of the Paul Newman courtroom classic...
Paul Newman plays Frank Galvin, an alcoholic lawyer who tours the funerals of Boston pretending to be friends of the deceased looking for potential clients. He thinks his luck has changed when he gets handed a medical negligence case that everyone involved thinks will be settled out of court for a tidy sum. The problem comes when Galvin visits his client, who is in a permanent vegetative state, and suddenly finds himself with a conscience. He takes it on himself to fight the case, which brings him up against the church and their team of highly paid lawyers.
The Verdict was nominated for five Oscars and five Golden Globes but the cast and crew walked away from both of the 1983 ceremonies with nothing to show for their efforts. Four years later, Paul Newman received the best actor Oscar for The Color of Money but his performance in The Verdict is without a doubt one of his strongest in a long line of memorable characters. The screenplay by David Mamet provided a framework for Newman to develop a character that is both charming and repellent in equal quantities. From ad-libbed jokes to small details like using breath freshener to rid him of the smell of alcohol, Newman created the mannerisms and expanded on a character that he knew he wanted to play from the moment he read the script.
It’s not just Paul Newman who lights up the screen either. The cast is filled with fine performances, including the always wonderful James Mason as the defence lawyer and it’s great to see him and Newman going head to head in the court scenes. Charlotte Rampling is perfect as the mysterious femme fatale and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men alumnus Jack Warden threatens to steal scenes from the headline star as his assistant Mickey.
Mamet’s screenplay was the first draft delivered to producers Richard D Zanuck and David Brown and it was originally rejected, most of all because it ended before the verdict was announced. Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with the producers of a film called The Verdict so they commissioned more writers to pen their own versions. In the DVD commentary Sidney Lumet says that each subsequent version got worse and worse. He had previously read Mamet’s version and suggested using it, with the producers agreeing as long as he wrote a ‘proper’ ending. As it turns out everyone involved made the right decisions, because the screenplay finds suspense at every possible opportunity and works with strong themes of religion and redemption without ever being preachy or sentimental.
Lumet’s direction is also something to behold. His long takes and wide shots wouldn’t have been possible if every member of the cast and crew hadn’t done their jobs perfectly and their use is refreshing in a genre that is usually identifiable by fast editing and close-ups, especially during cross-examination scenes. He doesn’t cut or move the camera for the sake of it, instead allowing the actors to portray their characters without interference. This is most apparent in Paul Newman’s summation which takes place in one very long wide take.
The Verdict is a compelling film and should be considered on a par with To Kill a Mockingbird, Anatomy of a Murder and other classic courtroom dramas. It is a film made by professionals at the top of their game and shows an incredible amount of originality in a genre that by definition follows a very strict structure.
This release of The Verdict comes with an anamorphic 16:9 picture that is unfortunately rather grainy, most of all during the opening ‘20th Century Fox’ graphic. There are also scratches and dirt on the picture but they are generally small and not noticeable enough to impair the viewing experience. Director of photography Andrzej Bartkowiak based the lighting on the paintings of Caravaggio, hence the large areas of shadow in the film and they stand up quite well. While the picture quality is by no means perfect, it presents the cleverly lit scenes satisfactorily.
The audio quality is similar to the video: acceptable without ever being impressive. The stereo track isn’t given much chance to show off, since music is used sparingly in The Verdict and there are not really any effects that would demand directional sound. However, dialogue is clear and the impressive score is free from interference.
The feature comes with a commentary track that is advertised as ‘Sidney Lumet with Paul Newman’ but in reality, we get Lumet for almost all of the film and Paul Newman’s comments are edited in about ten minutes before the end. He doesn’t say too much and duplicates things he says in the documentaries on the second disc. That said, Lumet’s commentary is filled with interesting facts. For example, the opening scene with Frank Galvin playing pinball in a bar is based on Lumet’s own experiences of being depressed. He would play a game at the beginning of the day to see how the fates were treating him and base his expectations for the day on his score.
Three featurettes make up the bulk of the extras on disc two: ‘Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting’, ‘Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing’ and ‘Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict’. All three featurettes include interviews that appear to be from the same sessions and go into detail about the genesis of the project and how the director and main star prepared for the film. Most interesting is the fact that Lumet uses a rehearsal approach more akin to television or stage productions, whereby he makes the cast run through the entire film to make sure everyone knows their lines and actions before production begins.
‘The Making of The Verdict’ is a promotional featurette from 1982 and is of more value as a nostalgia piece than as an in-depth documentary about the production. ‘Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict’ is an episode of a US network TV show and goes into the same details as the other documentaries in a more tabloid style. It’s worth noting that David Mamet is conspicuous by his absence in all of the featurettes and we never get an impression of his view on the final production. A stills gallery and the original theatrical trailer finish off the extras.
The Verdict is a classic film and is an essential watch for anyone with an interest in courtroom genres or fans of Sidney Lumet, Paul Newman and James Mason because it surely ranks among the finest work by all three of them. This release is the best DVD version available and while not quite reaching the same high quality of some recent Cinema Reserve releases, is still a package worthy of your hard-earned cash.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 19th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Commentary with Paul Newman and Sidney Lumet, The Making of The Verdict, Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting, Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing, Milestones in Cinema History, Hollywood Backstories, Stills Gallery, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Paul Newman, James Mason, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, Milo O'Shea
Length: 122 minutes
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