The Verdict is one of the finest examples of a courtroom drama that Hollywood has ever produced and a must-see film for movie lovers. Nominated for five OSCARS when released in 1982, The Verdict is one of those rare Hollywood vehicles where everything came perfectly together, under the guidance of legendary director Sidney Lumet and its iconic Hollywood star, Paul Newman. Working off a brilliant script from David Mamet, it tells the story of a broken man in Frank Galvin (Newman). Galvin is struggling to win a desperate lawsuit against powerful forces, while trying to reclaim his self-respect as a man and lawyer in the process.
Frank Galvin is the heart and soul of the movie’s emotional core. Newman is easily up for the challenge of playing the aging, alcoholic lawyer living in Boston, in one of the strongest performances of his storied career. Frank’s old friend, Mickey (Jack Warden), offers the washed-up ambulance chaser an easy score, a case where the victim has been left in a brain-dead state due to medical negligence at the local Catholic hospital. The Archdiocese of Boston, not wanting any negative publicity from a trial, offers a generous settlement to Frank and the victim’s family before the trial is set to start. Frank recklessly declines the offer on his own accord, sensing a bigger payday in trial and also wanting to publicize the inept medical treatment his client received from the hospital. Will his boozy ways lose the case and corrupt his pure-at-heart ideals?
Almost immediately, things start going sour for Frank’s side of the case. His star witness, a medical doctor that said it was clear malpractice by the attending doctors, disappears a few days before the trial. The judge is all but bought and paid for by the other side, in the grand tradition of the old boys’ network. Everything is going against his side of the case and he begins to lose hope, until he meets a woman that almost immediately becomes his paramour. Laura (Charlotte Rampling) injects new life into Frank, distracting him from the tribulations of the case with their burgeoning romance. What starts out as a dalliance for Frank becomes an essential part of the puzzle in solving this case for his client.
Mamet’s screenplay produces a multi-layered story dripping with emotional tension and truly heartfelt sympathy for the victim living in a brain-dead coma. I don’t like to throw terms like masterpiece around very often, but Verdict surely deserves the title. It is a superior legal drama that reveals more about the human condition in one of its scenes than most other movies can say in two hours. The twisting plot winds together in an orderly fashion, neatly incorporating everything shown and then forcing the viewer to rethink what they first saw. This is a movie where less foreknowledge about the intricacies of the plot will help one’s eventual enjoyment of it, so go see it now without further ado. From the stellar acting performances to the razor-sharp dialogue, Verdict is truly a film classic.
While The Verdict has always been held in high esteem since its debut, it must not sell on home video. Twentieth Century Fox has dug up an older transfer for this Blu-ray edition that simply doesn’t do the movie justice. The picture quality reeks of being from an older image harvest originally intended for DVD. It still retains some vestiges of the original film stock, but the transfer has serious levels of ringing and edge enhancement that mar an otherwise acceptable video quality.
The main feature runs nearly 129 minutes on a BD-50, appropriately framed at 1.85:1. The video has been encoded in AVC at an average bitrate of 28.85 Mbps, which is still barely enough to handle the copious amounts of grain and noise in the dated transfer. If one was being hawkish, bouts of chroma noise are evident in the grainy noise of darker interior shots. Taken from rather ordinary-looking film elements, the image shows all the hallmarks of serious digital processing that ruins any chance of a true film-like appearance. The video technicians for Fox clearly wanted to sharpen the image to “improve” the somewhat soft and gritty cinematography. Halos of some magnitude make their presence visible in many scenes.
Ignoring the unsightliness of the obvious ringing, Verdict has reasonable black levels and acceptable contrast for a 1982 film. A slight loss in shadow detail and texture makes itself known in a handful of scenes, but overall this is not a problem. Some minor specks and debris pop up on occasion, but the film print itself is relatively stable and free of significant damage. If digital noise reduction has been used on the transfer, it was done sparingly. Verdict was not shot as a videophile’s delight, close-ups display average detail and clarity in the best of its scenes. The courtroom scenes probably look the best, given their better lighting and crisper direction. Interior shots inside the cozy bar that Frank Galvin regularly visits are much softer in nature, pushing the limits of the film stock.
The two English audio options retain the original mono mix in an ordinary DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix and a newer DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. Verdict is almost entirely confined to dramatic dialogue and some incidental scoring, so almost the entire soundfield will be confined to your center-channel speaker. Honestly, there is little difference between the new 5.1 mix and the original mono mix, aside from small sections of the instrumental score being slightly spread out to your left and right channels in the “surround” mix. Rear channels are basically silent during the movie.
Dialogue is cleanly rendered and intelligibility is fine for this quiet drama. The Verdict is not a movie that relies on its soundtrack and almost feels like a stage play with its laid-back score. The monaural audio is thin at times with mildly unpleasant harshness. One scene that sticks out is the annoying ring of an old rotary phone.
There is an embarrassment of riches here when it comes to dub and subtitle options. Twentieth Century Fox clearly authored this BD for a global audience. The following dubbed soundtracks are available: French DTS 5.1, German 5.1 DTS, Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0, Japanese 5.1 DTS, Spanish DTS-HD MA 1.0, Spanish (Latin American) 1.0 Dolby Digital. The following subtitles are accessible, all presented in a white font: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish.
Twentieth Century Fox has brought over all the standard-definition special features that appeared on the collector’s edition of Verdict’s DVD. These are all well-constructed documentaries and featurettes that include participation by almost every major figure associated with the film. Sidney Lumet particularly adds a wealth of interesting information and insight into the movie’s genesis and production. These special features can all be considered essential viewing for Verdict’s fanbase and the craft of making a Hollywood film, from casting the star to writing a screenplay.
Audio Commentary with Director Sidney Lumet and Star Paul Newman – It is somewhat disingenuous to list the two stars together, because their comments have been recorded separately and Newman contributes much less than the loquacious Lumet. Sidney Lumet freely shares his extensive experience in making successful Hollywood movies in a free-ranging commentary that is a must-hear for film fans.
The Making of The Verdict (09:06 in 480i)
Paul Newman: The Craft of Acting (08:45 in 480i)
Sidney Lumet: The Craft of Directing (10:47 in 480i)
Milestones in Cinema History: The Verdict (23:14 in 480i) – An excellent look at the production of the movie from all angles, starting with the script process.
Hollywood Backstories: The Verdict (22:08 in 480i)
Theatrical Trailer (02:16 in 1080P) – The sole extra presented in HD.
In a nifty move, Fox has provided the following subtitle options for the supplemental features: English, Spanish, French, Castillian, Dutch, German, Italian, and Portuguese.
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