"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

In all the tributes over this past week to Sidney Lumet, many have cited Lumet’s strong track record of guiding his actors to exceptional, even iconic performances. While Al Pacino’s work in Lumet’s “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon” may be the most famous examples of this, I don’t think any of Lumet’s lead actors was ever better than Paul Newman as a down and out alcoholic Boston lawyer in “The Verdict.”

“The Verdict’s” success is due to the remarkable collaboration between Lumet, Newman and David Mamet, who wrote the script. Mamet’s screenplay takes what could have been either a run of the mill redemption story or courtroom drama and finds those keen details that Lumet and his cast bring to life brilliantly. There are those little moments, like Frank Galvin (Newman) sipping his shot of whiskey off of the bar, too shaky to dare risk raising it to his lips that make the bigger ones, like his argument in chambers with a corrupt judge (Milo O’Shea), or his stunning summation really pay off.

Newman doesn’t just play a drunk; he captures a drunk’s self-loathing, his fear, his shame and ultimately, the slow rekindling of his pride and the attendant panic that it may be too late. The supporting cast around Newman, including Jack Warden, Charlotte Rampling, Edward Binns, and particularly the great James Mason performs at the same high level.

Looking at the summation speech, I was struck by Lumet’s quiet but incredibly effective technique. The scene is one, long interrupted take. The camera holds the wide shot for a full two minutes, only moving when Newman approaches the jury box. Then slowly, it moves in on Newman, as his speech draws us in deeper, as if we are the jurors. Lumet’s decision to use one long take allows Newman to build up slowly, to really let Mamet’s words create the true force of their meaning. He finishes, and slumps back into his seat. We can sense the physical and emotional exhaustion of both the character and the actor.

Lumet, Newman and Mamet were all nominated for Academy Awards for “The Verdict.” None of them won.


1 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 15, 2011 2:09 pm

The Verdict is one of my favorite movies. Anyone who is thinking of going to law school should watch it. Its a lot more realistic than most depictions of courts in movies and TV.

I'm no movie buff, so I had no idea who Sidney Lumet was until I started reading what everyone's posted about him. Thanks for this, Matt.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 15, 2011 2:11 pm

Wonderful write up, and movie. Thanks Matt.

I'm not lawyer but didn't the Newman character take a big risk for his clients in not settling and going to trial?

3 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 15, 2011 2:19 pm

I shouldn't have left out Lindsey Crouse in that supporting cast honor roll. She plays a small but pivotal role, with her typical excellence.

I also love Newman cracking the egg into his beer. That bar was supposed to be in Boston, but they shot it at 7B in the East Village. That fence across the way from Newman and his pinball machine is Tompkins Square Park.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 15, 2011 2:30 pm

3) NICE!

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Apr 15, 2011 2:36 pm

I LOVE this movie, and I'm glad someone acknowledged the incredible work of the supporting cast. Newman gives one of the best performances of his career, really maybe his best, but Warden and Mason are absolutely amazing.

That swooping crane shot when the verdict is read gets me every time.

Plus it completely tore down the Boston Archdiocese long before Cardinal Law made it fashionable!

6 Shaun P.   ~  Apr 15, 2011 3:06 pm

[5] Snap!

[2] Yes, and not just a risk for them, but a huge risk of his own. That's the one part of the movie that isn't quite realistic.

The client is supposed to make all decisions related to settlement offers. The lawyer is supposed to be the adviser, not the decision-maker. The client may tell the lawyer what is OK to accept and what's not OK to accept - but that means the decision is still up the client.

Of course, in the end, its all OK because Galvin wins. (You wouldn't normally sue your lawyer for malpractice when you win, unless you're a masochist, or a fool.) But if Galvin had lost, his license to practice law was as good as gone.

The sister and brother-in-law could have fired Galvin when he told them he was taking the case to trial, and hired a different attorney who would have settled. But that wouldn't have made for much of a movie. =)

7 Greg G   ~  Apr 15, 2011 4:48 pm

This is one, (if not my favorite) movie of all time. I have seen The Verdict over 30 times, and could watch it a million more. My father was an Irish lawyer (and an alcoholic) and I remember watching this with him several times. Not only did he see a lot of himself in the role, but also found it quite authentic in a legal sense, especially for a Hollywood movie.

The Verdict and Newman in his incredible performance revealed a lot of personal demons that my father was carrying. Newman was certainly at his best in the role, and although he didn't win the Oscar until The Color of Money, this was probably his most challenging and seamless role. At the end when the juror announces the judgment it still brings tears to my eyes in every viewing.

While Pacino always brings an intensity similar to DeNiro's to his roles. Deniro and Pacino are like freight trains, but I have always admired actors like Newman and Robert Duvall who in their subtle action convey the whole story with just a look.

Directors like Lumet are in short supply in Hollywood, especially in the age of the blockbuster. He left his mark in some of the finest movies in Hollywood, and I am very glad that you featured this one. Thanks Matt!

8 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 15, 2011 5:02 pm

Well collected excerpts on actors and acting from Lumet's MAKING MOVIES (including a nice bit on Newman & The Verdict) on Sheila O'Malley's excellent blog The Sheila Varations here:

Well worth your time.

[7] Thanks, Greg and you're welcome!

9 Greg G   ~  Apr 15, 2011 5:56 pm

(8) Excellent link to Lumet's philosophy.

I remember seeing him on IFC's "A Decade Under the Influence" series by Ted Demme. Lumet was talking about Dunaway's character in the movie Network. He said something to the effect that he knew she was going to ask him where her characters weakness was, and he said, "She doesn't have one and if you try to put one in there, I will cut it out of the film." It is strange because Dunaway has a really compelling scene where she breaks down and begs for William Holden not to leave her, but I guess in analyzing her scene, maybe she doesn't quite know why she needs him, and maybe only wants him because he is leaving? Perhaps her breakdown just came from a real organic place and he left it in?

I think Network is an even more important movie today. It was as if Lumet is Sybil the Soothsayer.

10 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 15, 2011 6:04 pm

[9] I love Network too, but I think Chayefsky was the Soothsayer in question.

11 Greg G   ~  Apr 15, 2011 6:06 pm

(10) True.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver