Verdict, The (1982): Lumet’s Courtroom Drama, Starring Paul Newman and Charlotte Rampling

Paul Newman gives one of his finest performances as a Boston lawyer, who’s hit bottom, until a medical negligence case of a comatose woman gives him a chance to restore his self-esteem–while fighting for the kind of justice he still believes in.

Lumet uses silence and pauses as eloquently as dialogue. The screenplay by playwright David Mamet, from Barry Reed’s novel, is a bit theatrical but serves well the purposes of a courtroom melodrama.

The opposition, the Catholic Church that owns the Boston hospital, is represented by a shrewd lawyer (James Mason), who works for a prestigious firm.

As always, Lumet gets terrific performances, and not just from his leads.

In small but well-defined roles, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, Lindsay Crouse (then Mamet’s wife), and Milo O’Shea, all shine. If you look carefully, you’ll be able to spot Bruce Willis as an extra.

Rampling, looking at her most seductive, plays the crucial role of Newman’s girlfriend, Laura, who turns out to be a mole.  When he discovers this, he confronts her in a bar, and in a powerful moment of silence, smacks her across the face.

The film’s very last scene is also memorable  in its unusual bold tone.  After Frank wins the case, Laura gets drunk, and back in her flat, in a state of stupor, drops the whiskey on the floor, then pulls the phone closer to her.  Desperate and humiliated, she calls Frank.  The telephone rings and rings.  Cut to Newman, at his office with a cup of coffee.  Hesitant, he decides to pick up the call, but then changes his mind, and the phone just continues ringing.

Released by Fox on December 8, 1982, The Verdict received good reviews and was a commercial hit, earning about $54 million at the box office (against a budget of $16 million)

Oscar Context

The movie was nominated for five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, and Supporting Actor. However, the big winner in 1982 was Gandhi, which won Picture, Director (Richard Attenborough), and Actor (Ben Kingsley).

Mason, who had never won an Oscar, lost to Louis Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman, and Mamet was defeated by Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart, who penned the taut script for Missing, a fact-based thriller that was also nominated for Best Picture.