The Boston Lawyer
Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) was a promising Boston lawyer but his love of drink not only destroyed his career but also his marriage and now is forced to scour the obituaries looking for funerals so that he can try and drum up some business from the recently bereaved. Fortunately for Frank his old buddy Mickey (Jack Warden) has a simple job for him involving a woman left with brain damage and in a coma due to hospital negligence, a job which should just require an out of court settlement and enough money in Frank's pocket to fuel his alcohol addiction. But Frank takes a trip to the hospital to see the woman and in doing so causes him to feel something for the first time. It leads to him deciding to take the case to court rather than settling in order to gain some self respect, but with the fears hidden by years of hiding in a bottle can he do the job he intends to especially with the Archdiocese of Boston who are responsible for the hospital set on winning at all costs.
Courtroom dramas are always entertaining, I think it must be the David vs. Goliath aspect of seeing a small time lawyer solve the case to take on the smug bad guys but the best courtroom dramas have more to them than just plenty of courtroom theatrics. And that is what "The Verdict" offers us as whilst we have the little guy in the shape of Frank taking on the hospital trust it is also an examination of a drunk trying to be professional and gaining some self respect.
Now the courtroom side of "The Verdict" is entertaining as not only does Frank's case stumble as important witnesses disappear but he discovers the defence team are not averse to breaking the rules as well as trying to push Frank further into a bottle in order to destroy his case. This is also combined with the woman who Frank meets in a bar who falls for Frank's guff about who he is except she may not be who she first seems to be. It is a thrilling courtroom drama which like the best courtroom dramas builds to the moving closing speech from Frank as he has one last chance to win the case and prove himself before he sinks in to a bottle so far he will never get out.
But whilst this side of "The Verdict" is good what we also have is Paul Newman turning in a performance which makes it more than just the little guy taking on the bad guy. What he does is take us into the world of an alcoholic who at times knows the way he operates is wrong as he scours the obituaries and hates himself for it but at the same time does so to survive. We also see how when he is fuelled up he believes his own stories and vision of which he is rather than the drunk lawyer with a problem which he really is. It is a pitch perfect portrayal from Newman which started what was to be the actor's era of embracing his age and playing characters worn down from hard lives.
But whilst Newman is the star of "The Verdict" there is not a bad performance in the entire movie with Charlotte Rampling bringing plenty on intrigue to the role of Claire, the woman who Frank starts to date. You wonder where her loyalties lie and she works well with Newman. There is also James Mason who never disappoints and he certainly doesn't here as the well paid defence lawyer who tries to destroy Frank and his case. The introduction to James Mason's character as he talks to his large team of lawyers, telling them to do things such as getting an article in praise of the hospital's doctors in the press gives you that insight into how things are done and manipulated.
What this all boils down to is that "The Verdict" is an entertaining and interesting courtroom drama about an old, failing lawyer having one last shot of doing something right. But what makes it better than average is the depth which Paul Newman brings as the alcoholic lawyer and makes "The Verdict" just as interesting as a character study.