Review: The Verdict (1982)

1982, the year The Verdict was released, must have been a very long time ago. Perhaps I felt this way because of the locale of the movie (Boston) or the ancient looking Catholic hospital and Boston brownstones around which this movie is framed. Or maybe it was Attorney Frank Galvin’s ugly little office, where the dust is deep and the plaster is peeling off the wall. 1982 feels more like 1960 something.

So you may gather that The Verdict is not a very pretty movie. Paul Newman was 57 when this movie was filmed. He looks a lot older, which is why initially I thought this movie was probably filmed in the 1990s. On the other hand, perhaps he looks so old because he had good makeup artists. In The Verdict, Newman portrays Attorney at Law Frank Galvin, who is an attorney more in name than in fact. Galvin made some major mistakes earlier in his career. He is reduced to soliciting for clients in funeral homes. Since his phone hardly ever rings, he spends much of his time playing pinball, drinking hard liquor and chain-smoking cigarettes.

His attorney pal Mickey (Jack Warden) throws him a charity case. It appears that an anesthesiologist at a local Catholic hospital was negligent during surgery. The female patient became a vegetable and has been wasting away the last four years in their hospital ward. The woman’s family simply wants to get a decent settlement from the hospital. Frank only has to negotiate the settlement and collect a third of the settlement as his fee to survive in his alcoholic haze for another year.

Paul Newman, who sadly departed this world last September, may have gone on to create a line of health foods, but his portrayal of washed up attorney Frank Galvin epitomizes what not to do to your body. It is amazing that Frank can feel anything the way he deadens his senses with cigarettes and booze. He makes the mistake of visiting the hospital and actually seeing the comatose woman, who is hooked up to a ventilator. The two hundred thousand dollar settlement proposed by the hospital suddenly strikes him as an insult, but the hospital refuses to go higher. He convinces the woman’s family to take the case to trial so they can get an adequate judgment.

While Frank does manage to get his friend Mickey to help with the case, taking it to trial appears to be a very bad idea. The bishop overseeing the hospital has enough institutional cash to hire Boston’s toniest law firm. Add in a hostile judge and the odds of winning a judgment seem against Frank. When witnesses mysteriously disappear, he is reduced to hiring third-rate expert witnesses to try to make his case.

Only a desperate woman would want anything to do with this guy. Against all odds, Frank encounters an attractive older woman in his neighborhood bar whom he propositions. Her name is Laura (Charlotte Rampling). Laura says she is new in town, but she projects a massively troubled demeanor just like Frank. They manage to become something of a couple. However, since both are wrapped up in their own problems their relationship does not amount to much. Yet, Laura is at least something new in his life. Perhaps because of Laura, Frank seems able to stumble through the case.

In The Verdict Paul Newman gives one of his better performances. It is hard to like Frank Galvin or inhabit his lonely and miserable little world, but it is also hard not to feel some sympathy for the guy. It does not take long for Paul Newman’s blue eyes to fade and to feel yourself inhabiting Frank’s hollow world. Equally memorable though is Charlotte Rampling’s portrayal of Laura, who looks devastated and shell shocked. What sort of secrets is she carrying around? By the end of the movie, you will find out.

As dreary movies go, this one is exceptionally well done, which perhaps accounts for its fistful of Academy Award nominations. It is in many ways a portrait of melancholy. There are certainly more miserable creatures out there than Frank and Laura. Yet none of us are that far removed from sad lives like theirs, and many inhabit far worse places, which perhaps why this movie is more compelling than expected. You may find yourself saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

3.3 on my 4.0 scale.

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