Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Verdict

As a modest tribute to the recently deceased Sidney Lumet, here’s a look at one of his films. Although Lumet started out in TV, his features career is bookended by Twelve Angry Men (1957) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007). The former is a stone cold classic and the latter is startling for both its power and the fact that it was directed by an octogenarian. The Verdict sits precisely in the middle of that prolific career - 1982 (oh yeah, that year again). Although made just into the eighties, it’s fair to say the film has a seventies sensibility. To describe the tone, the adjectives that spring to mind are “sombre” and “bleak”. A protagonist who is an ageing, washed-up, ambulance-chasing lawyer is not an obvious hero for mainstream eighties cinema. Oh, and he’s also a bona fide alcoholic. The breakfast of this champion is a beer with an egg cracked into it. No wait come back, it is entertaining. If you enjoy the psychological warfare of a cross-examination, a desk-slapping speech and “OBJECTION YER HONOUR” bellowed across a courtroom then you are likely to enjoy this.

Paul Newman is exceptional as Frank Galvin, the reprobate described above. He is given something of a last chance - a medical malpractice case. What he does initially for the big possible earner he eventually does to redeem himself. The setting is a cold and wintry Boston and the legal halls therein. Charlotte Rampling is as icy as the locations and James Mason plays defence lawyer, Ed Concannon, an adversary to be feared and described as “The Prince of Fucking Darkness”. This brings me to the screenwriter, who might be referred to as “David Fucking Mamet”. The screenplay is unsurprisingly clever, poetically un-pc and he was rightly nominated for an oscar. (FYI, he lost out to Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart’s for their “worthy” opponent, Missing.)

As with much of Lumet’s work The Verdict is solid Hollywood product but with an edge. In comparison to his other work I believe it’s a bit underrated. Understandable, considering it sits next to the likes of Dog Day Afternoon and Network but highly recommended nonetheless. 

1 comment:

  1. I miss James Mason. He was great in whatever he did.