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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD Review

The Verdict: Collector's Edition DVD Review

The Verdict (1982) movie poster - click to buy The Verdict

Theatrical Release: December 8, 1982 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Paul Newman (Frank Galvin), Charlotte Rampling (Laura Fischer), Jack Warden (Mickey Morrissey), James Mason (Ed Concannon), Milo O'Shea (Judge Hoyle), Lindsay Crouse (Kaitlin Costello Price), Edward Binns (Bishop Brophy), Julie Bovasso (Maureen Rooney), Roxanne Hart (Sally Doneghy), James Handy (Kevin Doneghy), Wesley Addy (Dr. Towler), Joe Seneca (Dr. Thompson), Lewis Stadlen (Dr. Gruber)

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Two weeks ago, Paul Newman announced his retirement from film on "Good Morning America." If he sticks to his word, it means that one of the greatest acting careers in movie history has come to an end. While today's youths are more apt to recognize Newman as the man whose face adorns an assortment of grocery store items, Newman's run in Hollywood has been remarkable and rare, much more so than his three Oscars (two of them, honorary) would indicate.
You won't find many other performers who have earned accolades this decade and each of the five before it, but that's precisely what Newman has done, in recent years juggling his auto racing hobby and philanthropic food line as well.

One of Newman's career highs came in March of 1987, when in absentia he won that elusive Best Actor Academy Award on his seventh try, for reprising the character of "Fast" Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese's sequel The Color of Money. Just a few years earlier came another apex performance in The Verdict, which garnered Newman a sixth acting Oscar nomination. At first sight, Newman's Verdict protagonist appears like he could be an aged Fast Eddie Felson. Frank Galvin shares with Newman's earlier persona a fondness for alcohol, a short temper, and the need to prove something. Galvin's main scam doesn't take place in pool halls, however; he prefers to slip business cards into the hands of unknown grieving widows.

When Galvin's backstory emerges, we understand his current washed-up slumber. After making partner and getting married, Galvin chose not to play by the corrupt ways of a venal legal system. Accused in a jury-tampering scandal, Galvin lost his comfy law firm slot and his wife via a firing and divorce, respectively. In the present-day, he is reduced to the lowly status of an independent "ambulance chaser", attending wakes for their business potential and spending more time drinking and playing barroom pinball than practicing law.

Paul Newman plays Frank Galvin, the washed-up, alcoholic attorney at the center of "The Verdict." Frank and Mickey (Jack Warden) work together on their challenging medical malpractice suit.

Things change when Galvin accepts a medical malpractice lawsuit referred to him by foul-mouthed friend and fellow attorney Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden). The case concerns a healthy young woman who, in getting ready to deliver a third child, was rendered brain-dead by an erroneous dose of anesthesia. Four years since the incident occurred, the patient's sister and her husband are ready to move on and move out west with some welcome punitive damages. While Galvin is preparing to go through the motions as usual, something happens. In visiting the victim in her tube-reliant state, he suddenly understands there's more at stake than money.

Against common wisdom, Galvin rejects the defendants' settlement offer of $210,000 (of which he stands to collect a well-needed third) and proceeds to go to trial. To say that Galvin and Morrissey are up against the odds is a massive understatement. Representing the Church-owned hospital being sued is legal bigwig Ed Concannon (James Mason) and a team of more than a dozen devoted individuals. While Concannon and company are sizing up the competition, rehearsing testimony, preparing to pounce on any prosecution weakness, and even spinning the media, Galvin is left explaining himself to his disappointed clients and learning that his star witness has oddly disappeared just days before the trial begins. Throw in a judge (Milo O'Shea) who is clearly partial to the defense and it would seem like an open and shut case will batter an already beaten Galvin.

An unabashed procedural legal drama, The Verdict grips viewers with a progression of one case that is essential to the protagonist. Human interest is overflowing in the plight of the sympathetic underdog, who's wonderfully characterized by Newman. The Oscar-nominated sophomore film screenplay of David Mamet gives us much to chew on in the way of character development and even more to appreciate in depicting the spectacular realities of the age-old legal system. Had Kafka not already claimed the title 57 years earlier, The Trial might have been a more appropriate name for this film. The inherently theatrical drama of the courtroom and the even more fascinating worlds behind the scenes are mined for all their great worth.

Defense attorney Ed Concannon (James Mason, right) shows his ruthlessness during a mock interrogation of Dr. Towler (Wesley Addy). Second-billed Charlotte Rampling plays a fellow alcohol-loving divorcee who appears to offer moral support (and more) to Frank and Mickey.

Director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) elevates the proceedings beyond mere legal drama by never straying from the element of redemption. He makes Galvin's quest all the more palpable by placing him in a timeless setting. There's little evidence that this was filmed in the early 1980s and the cold, snowy Boston scenery serves more to underscore the winter of Galvin's soul than to add a New England flavor.
There's such a gravitas to the film that even though the central lawsuit speaks of no larger issues -- the medical industry, the Catholic church, and the legal system serve as variables more than targets -- it feels as if the repercussions are titanic and universal. The entire film takes on the tone of an epic, as if it were adapted from some long-admired moral study rather than the 1970 novel that comprised trial lawyer Barry Reed's entire literary resumé.

The Verdict opened in a handful of theaters the same December day as Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. The two dramas were treated to similar distribution plans and each ended up grossing just over $50 million domestically, which 25 years ago was enough to rank a film among the year's dozen highest earners. While their American box office numbers were easily comparable, Gandhi became the Academy's darling, winning Oscars in 9 of the 12 categories in which it was nominated. The Verdict received nominations for Best Picture, directing, and adapted screenplay plus Newman's lead and James Mason's supporting performances. Alas, it came away empty-handed in all five categories, losing to Gandhi in three of those.

The Verdict made its DVD debut five Junes ago, arriving alongside Paul Newman's earlier drama The Hustler. Both return to the medium on the Tuesday before Father's Day, this time each arriving as two-disc Collector's Edition. Though it may have seemed like Fox had abandoned spine-numbering selected two-disc sets, the practice returns with these two Newman re-releases, giving the fickle line its first new numbers in over a year. The Hustler takes #30, while The Verdict becomes 31.

Buy The Verdict: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English),
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

As on its previous DVD incarnation, The Verdict is presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. I was unable to compare this presentation to the 2002 DVD's, but on its own merits, this looks very good. While the movie's scenery has been deliberately framed to look old, the DVD makes the film look new. Any shortcomings were few and far between; these included rare grain, extremely minimal artifacts, and a couple of minor instances of moiré effect. These issues leave some room for improvement, but not a lot and anyone who's not a home theater buff would be utterly hard-pressed to find reason to complain.

The two-channel soundtrack is offered in both Mono and Stereo versions. From the choice, I'm guessing the film was originally exhibited in monaural format, a somewhat rare occurrence for an early '80s film. Both do a decent job of providing a track that's largely dialogue-driven. Both also fall a little short of satisfying quality, with a somewhat archaic design that sounds all the more anemic stretched to stereo. Nevertheless, this isn't the type of film you expect to wake up your neighbors with and thus audio weaknesses are pretty inconsequential and likely unable to be improved on standard DVD.

James Mason appears in the promotional 1982 featurette "The Making of 'The Verdict'." Sidney Lumet recalls helming the film in "Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing." Mustachioed producer David Brown discusses a storied production

BONUS FEATURES

Disc 1's lone bonus feature is carried over from the earlier DVD. It is an audio commentary on the film by "director Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman."
To call it a two-person commentary is rather deceptive, however. While Lumet makes screen-specific observations throughout, Newman is only heard in a 90-second interview snippet near the end. The distinction should have been made more clearly, since those expecting to hear much from Newman are apt to be disappointed. Gladly, though, Lumet speaks like he writes, in a matter-of-fact manner that is extremely easy to invest in and follow. He adds a lot of insight, covering the movie's design (from color palette to lighting) and dramatic nuances, sharing vivid production anecdotes, and just generally increasing one's appreciation for the film. Though he leaves more blank spaces than he should, he avoids idly filling the air or succumbing to other common commentary downfalls.

Far from the comprehensive documentary you might expect, "The Making of The Verdict" (8:45) is a brief promotional featurette from the time of release. Cast and crew interview soundbites, fuzzy fullscreen movie clips, and some marketing department voiceover add up to something worth viewing but much less so than a satisfying, objective piece.

The first of four consecutive new inclusions, "Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting" (8:45) sits down with the actor as he recalls making The Verdict. It's a bit heavy on film clips and Newman gets a little abstract by the end, but this succinct piece still has value.

"Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing" (10:45) employs a similar format, with Lumet matter-of-factly discussing his philosophies on working with actors, auteur theory, and editing. Newman also chimes in a bit here.

"Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict" (23:10) fills a void as a general retrospective documentary. Participating here are producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, actress Lindsay Crouse (writer David Mamet's ex-wife), Lumet, Newman, and USC professor Dr. Richard Jewell. All speak fondly of their experiences on the film, praising the efforts of key personnel and referencing favorite scenes. There are also revelations about actors who expressed interest in the movie, how numerous scripts were written and attached, and how the studio sought some changes but yielded to Lumet's final cut powers. In short, it's a nice piece.

Paul Newman talks "The Verdict" in the movie's featured episode of AMC's "Backstory" series. The title logo for "The Verdict" is seen in the movie's theatrical trailer. Computer-generated gavel aside, Disc 1's Main Menu is rather stately.

"Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict" (22:05) is a slightly-retitled 2001 episode of AMC's "Backstory." If you've watched the bonus features in order, you'll hear some of the same stories repeated here, as many of the participants have appeared elsewhere. Still, it recounts the movie's making in a fascinating manner, perhaps overdramatizing certain aspects but nonetheless moving through production in a chronological, comprehensive way.

A light Still Gallery holds just eight behind-the-scenes photos from production.

"The Films of Paul Newman" presents trailers for eight other Fox/Newman collaborations: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (0:55), From the Terrace (3:12), Hombre (2:20), The Hustler (3:20), The Long, Hot Summer (2:36), Quintet (1:33), The Towering Inferno (2:12), and What a Way to Go! (2:55). The section, either a fun trip down memory lane or at least a tribute to vintage trailers, is identical to the section on Hustler's Collector's Edition,
only that elder Newman drama's trailer replaces The Verdict's. Gladly, The Verdict's original theatrical trailer (2:18) is also offered here, as Disc 2's final menu listing.

MENUS and PACKAGING

Despite the computer-animated judge's gavel that introduces them, the set's main menus have a stately quality to them, as a montage of scenes play in a window, while an excerpt of the choral end credits music is looped. All submenus are silent and static.

Like the concurrent reissue of The Hustler, the keepcase's contents are a six-page booklet and a two-sided insert promoting Newman films on Fox DVD. In addition to a scene selection list, the former serves up three pages of notes on the film and its storied production, buoyed by plenty of good quotes from the talent.

Paul Newman didn't win the Oscar, but he won plenty of praise for his fine turn in Sidney Lumet's enduringly involving courtroom drama. Frank gets a little shoulder love from Mickey.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Between John Grisham's thrillers, multiple versions of "Law & Order", and the shows and movies that emulate them both, the legal drama has proliferated in the past two decades. That doesn't, however, make 1982's The Verdict any less potent. Sharp writing from David Mamet, terrific direction by Sidney Lumet, and all-around excellent acting (from Paul Newman, James Mason, and Jack Warden, among others) work together to make this film highly gripping twenty-five years after its release.

Fox's two-disc Collector's Edition definitely improves upon the movie's 2002 DVD release, but probably not enough to merit a repurchase for those who already own the movie. The three new featurettes and AMC episode do add insight at a reasonable price and not at the cost of any dropped bonuses. That means those who haven't seen and don't own The Verdict ought to consider adding it to their collection, while the film's most ardent fans might consider unloading the old DVD and upgrading to this.

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Related Reviews:
The Hustler: Collector's Edition | Big: Extended EditionThat Thing You Do!: Tom Hanks' Extended Cut
Early '80s Cinema: Tex (1982) • Tron: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1982) • Night Crossing (1982)

The Cast of The Verdict:
Jack Warden: The Great Muppet Caper (1981) | Paul Newman: Cars (2006)
James Mason: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) | James Handy: The Rocketeer (1991)

The Book: The Verdict by Barry Reed

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Reviewed June 12, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 UltimateDisney.com. Images copyright 1982/2007 20th Century Fox. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.