Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) is a down-on-his luck, alcoholic lawyer in Boston. In the past three years, he’s had four cases and spends most of his time either at a bar playing pinball and shooting whiskey or peddling his business cards at funerals. When a friend gets him an easy hospital negligence case, it becomes a chance at redemption for Frank.
Four years earlier, a young woman was given the wrong anesthetic while going into labor and has been a vegetable in a coma ever sense. Her sister and brother-in-law are seeking justice from the Catholic hospital. We get the feeling that the hospital and archdiocese have something to hide, especially when they’re willing to settle. This should be an open-and-shut case for Frank, earning him enough money to let him drink away the rest of the time he has left.
Going to trial is more important to Frank than settling, he even turns down a settlement of $200,000. He seems to be risking everything for his own chance to prove himself to himself. But for that selfish moment for redemption, has he underestimated his opponent, defense attorney Ed Concannon (James Mason), and put his trust in an enemy?
While all this sounds interesting, I think there are a very select few who would really enjoy this movie. You see, it’s very quiet and its action consists of tense quiet moments, conversations and the subdued intensity within the courtroom. To many, The Verdict would be two hours of quiet boredom.
However, I found a silver lining to all this quietness and found myself surprised at how tuned in I was to every word, action and soft sound presented. I think that’s what viewers are supposed to do here, it’s like we’re listening for something important on a radio that keeps fading in and out. There are many slow and quiet moments for us to focus all our senses on. In one amazing shot, Frank is watching a couple Polaroids he just snapped of the victim in a coma develop. They slowly come into focus and color, and the camera doesn’t look away. All we hear is the quiet hiss and pump of the machines keeping the coma ward alive. The longer we watch, wait and listen, these sounds become deafening, yet they aren’t really rising. The Verdict is full of moments like this, where we wait, watch, and become enticed, agonizingly wanting that pin to drop and break the tension lingering in the air. Though I would not recommend this film to the masses, those who find an appreciation for courtroom dramas, Sidney Lumet’s work and what I’ve described here are encouraged to seek The Verdict out.
“You guys… you guys are all the same! The doctors at the hospital, you… it’s always what I’m going to do for you. And then you screw up, and it’s, ‘Ah, we did the best that we could, I’m dreadfully sorry.’ And people like us live with your mistakes the rest of our lives.”
With a life long love of film and writing, Alyson Krier has decided to watch and review all the Best Picture nominees throughout the history of the Academy Awards on her ever expanding blog, The Best Picture Project.