Paul Newman pursues ‘The Verdict’ in superb law drama

Movie Review

Paul Newman in “The Verdict”

Paul Newman won an Oscar for “The Color of Money,” but many consider his career-topping performance to be in “The Verdict.”

The actor strips every trace of ego from his work in director Sidney Lumet’s gripping 1982 law drama, which Turner Classic Movies shows Sunday, Jan. 30. Because of what the role demands, a number of top actors reportedly declined the main part, not wanting to dent their images with their loyal audiences … but Newman is thoroughly, relentlessly compelling as a flawed Boston attorney seeking redemption by trying a case that most others feel he should have settled out of court.

Frank Galvin (Newman) is hired by a woman and her husband (Roxanne Hart, James Handy) on behalf of her sister, left comatose in an operation gone wrong at a hospital run by the Catholic Church. Though a generous settlement is offered via a high-powered lawyer Ed Concannon (James Mason), Galvin deems it morally wrong to accept the money without holding those directly responsible accountable — and despite his questionable track record in the courtroom, he proceeds to trial, helped by the friend (Jack Warden) who channeled the case his way.

Initially, Galvin thinks he has an open-and-shut case, thanks to a key witness. However, things soon take an unforeseen turn, forcing Galvin to do major footwork to try to salvage a winning verdict. His penchant for heavy drinking doesn’t help, though, and his new involvement with a strong-willed woman (Charlotte Rampling) also might prove to hinder him.

There isn’t a single player in “The Verdict” who isn’t absolutely superb, some of them being talents who had worked with Lumet before. Warden was in the filmmaker’s first movie — another trial drama, “12 Angry Men” — as was Edward Binns, who plays the church bishop here. Wesley Addy, seen as as doctor who handled the failed operation, had portrayed a TV executive in “Network” for Lumet.

For the excellence displayed by all hands involved in “The Verdict” (extending to David Mamet’s screenplay, based on a Barry Reed novel), Newman is the ultimate element. It’s not an overstatement to call what he gives one of the most courageous performances ever put on screen by any “A”-list actor. He’s pitiable and unsympathetic at points, a huge risk for a major star to take at the time.

As a result, “The Verdict” turns out very much in Paul Newman’s favor.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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