Paul Newman plays a down-and-out lawyer who spends his days drinking himself to death, until he’s thrown a lifeline with a seemingly cut-and-dry medical case. But before he can get justice done the forces of the establishment close ranks against him, leaving him against a biased judge, the medical profession and the Catholic church.
What’s interesting about The Verdict is how relevant it continues to be.The Catholic church protecting its reputation at the expense of the safety of the people it professes to help is something that continues today. With the UN’s recently ignored request that the church removes all known abusers from office and hands its records over to the authorities, it’s clear that the church’s penchant for pure self interest, wrapped in the guise of serving the community, is relevant as ever.
As with any Lumet film it’s beautifully shot, with our lawyer’s miserable existence permeating from the screen. Newman is brilliant in the role, and carries the film. It’s not without its humorous moments, either, which is highly laudable in a film that deals primarily with a court case.
Its main failing is that it ultimately falls into a lot of the same traps as many courtroom dramas, relying on the same old tactics to create suspense. I’m sure most real court cases are nowhere near interesting enough for a film, but courtroom dramas do tend to rely on the same devices to make things interesting. For this reason, the film’s exposition is more interesting than the case itself.
Seeing our lawyer’s life before he takes on the case, the process of his negotiation before the trial, and the aftermath, is better than the verbal sparring in the court. But the fact that there’s so much substance here beyond a sensational day in a courtroom makes this film work, and a respectable entry into Lumet’s impressive canon.