The Verdict (1982)


The Verdict is a 1982 courtroom drama film which tells the story of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer who pushes a medical malpractice case in order to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing. Since the lawsuit involves a woman in a persistent vegetative state, the movie is cast in the shadow of the Karen Ann Quinlan case. The movie stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film was adapted by David Mamet from the novel by Barry Reed and is not a remake of the 1946 film of the same name. The Verdict was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Mason), Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Picture and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (David Mamet).


Frank Galvin (Paul Newman), once a promising Boston lawyer, is now an alcoholic ambulance chaser who has lost all of his four cases over the last three years. As a favor, his former partner and friend Mickey (Jack Warden) throws him a medical malpractice case where it's all but assured that the defense will settle for a large amount. The case involves a young mother who was possibly administered the wrong anesthetic and is now in a coma. Her sister and brother-in-law are hoping for a settlement to properly care for the victim, and Frank assures them they have a strong case. Frank visits the coma-stricken young mother and is deeply affected. He then meets with the defendants: the Archdiocese of Boston, who run the Catholic hospital where the incident took place. As expected, the archdiocese offers a fair amount of money to settle out of court, but Frank declines the offer, as he fears that this may be his last chance to do something right as a lawyer, and that merely taking the handout would render him "lost." Everyone, including the presiding judge and the mother's relatives, is stunned by Frank's decision. Things quickly go wrong for Frank: his star medical expert is threatened out of the country; a hastily arranged substitute's credentials and testimony are called into serious question on the witness stand; his opponent—the high-priced attorney Ed Concannon (James Mason)—has at his disposal a large legal team that is masterful with the press; the presiding judge (Milo O'Shea) takes great strides to obstruct Frank's questioning; and any witnesses present in the operating room refuse to testify about what, if anything, went wrong. In desperation, Frank flies to New York to find the one witness he hasn't tried; it's there that Mickey informs a devastated Frank that Frank's new lover Laura (Charlotte Rampling), disillusioned with what she foresees as Frank's impending failure, has offered to help the opposition, has been paid off, and is spying on him and reporting his tactics to them. Enraged, Frank goes to Laura, who knowing nothing of her exposure, is happily waiting for him at a local restaurant, and punches her once fiercely. Even then, when he has the clear opportunity to have the case declared a mistrial, Frank decides to continue to trial. Frank's big break occurs when he discovers the whereabouts of a lone witness quickly hushed after the incident. Her shattering testimony—that she was forced to change her chart notes after the incident to hide an egregious error—stuns the entire courtroom. A distressed Concannon's attempts at discrediting her serve only to further cement her veracity, even after the judge declares her testimony stricken from the record. Frank delivers a brief but moving closing argument, beseeching the jury to pursue "truth and justice." When the jury returns, they request a clarification before they deliver their verdict: whether they are limited to the amount sought by the plaintiffs. When the presiding judge resignedly replies they are not, it is implied the award will far exceed expectations. As Frank is congratulated by his clients, Mickey, and colleagues and strangers alike, he catches a glimpse of Laura watching him from afar. The final shot is of Frank deeply contemplating his new and unfamiliarly bright lease on life, ignoring his telephone's continuous ringing from a call from Laura.