29 May 2006 | MisterWhiplash
maybe not one of the very best I've seen from Lumet, but from Newman...
Sidney Lumet reaches into a certain style in this film that took me a few minutes to, if the word is right, adjust to. One might almost think the way he keeps the camera on a character or goes for the shots keeping the characters far away (long-shots) or in dark spaces (when not in the courtroom) or seemingly small in the scope of the areas around then, as detached. It is, but there-in lies his talents as a director, by letting the acting- slow but very sturdy and all based on David Mamet's script (also not one of his very best, but then again different from his plays). It's not a great film by the director as some have gone to lengths to write about, but it is one that is resonating further as I write this, and does successfully dig into further what it means to be a lawyer, or just trying to live, when odds are stacked against you. I'm almost reminded of a European director here, searching under the obvious in the story- points of which in the case that could just as well be on an OK episode of Law & Order- doing more of a character study than a full-on courtroom drama.
It helps, however, that Paul Newman is at the top of his game here, giving a performance that is textured, if that's a word to use as well, and kind of sad. He's playing Frank Gavin as much of a tragic figure as a real human being here, and there's a scene where he is in his office at a big moment of doubt "there is no other case, there is no other case". Newman is able to tap into what Lumet and Mamet have in the material superlatively, as if he knows how this character thinks. The early scenes show him as a low-level guy, ambulance chaser, who gets a case of a malpractice of a woman. In one of the most crucial and successful scenes in the film (for both director, writer and star), Gavin takes a couple of Polaroids of the girl in the hospital, seemingly just doing his work, but then has a pause, and the photos come into focus. This kind of change-of-thought has been done in other dramas to be sure, but here it really clicks with the pace, the mood and timing from Newman, and how this situation is given room to breathe.
If the rest of the film doesn't follow this same pattern it's not necessarily a full-on crutch. The courtroom scenes themselves are very good, with James Mason (among other British character actors) convincing in their roles of the more 'weighty' side of the court. Jack Warden adds some presence too as Gavin's partner (and adds a memory of Lumet's own classic 12 Angry Men). Only the sub-plot between Newman and Rampling seems just slightly off. Her character is necessary for the film, and there are one or two excellent scenes with her in it (particularly the one with him feeling most shaky before the trial). But her part is that of a more conventional picture, and her motivations are only made so clear as to not be totally believable. The final scene between her and Newman is maybe the best out of all of them, but it goes without saying that it's mainly a credit to him and Lumet, a kind of catharsis that is laid on that does add a fine point.
The Verdict is not really one of those films that is "over-rated" in the scope of things, and it's possibly more of the deserved Oscar nominated turns for Newman when compared to The Color of Money (good, not great there). It's worth seeing again, even as it is a different kind of courtroom picture, where the good and evil in man is not as revealed as in Lumet's first feature, but there are some poignant scenes of the need of redemption for a broken person.