Monday, October 4, 2010

The Verdict: Dated In The Details, Enduring In The Drama

The Good: Acting, Characters, Plot, Sense of setting
The Bad: Early pacing issues, Details
The Basics: Well-developed, if awkwardly paced, in plot, character, acting and a broad sense of setting.

It seems this is my week for reviewing works by David Mamet (I reviewed Glengarry Glen Ross yesterday, click here for that review!). In this case, I have to say it's a pleasure to view his work. The Verdict, while beginning with a stiflingly slow pace, certainly rose to the occasion.

The Verdict follows lawyer Frank Galvin, classically an "ambulance chaser" - that is, he gets his clients by appealing to those in hospitals and at funeral homes -, takes a medical malpractice case for the sister of a woman who is barely alive in a coma. Galvin decides that this shall be his opportunity to turn his life around and he becomes determined to win this particular case. Despite that assertion, he continues to drink like a hog in heat (okay, I've been dying to use that phrase and here it's appropriate; one of the most telling aspects of the film is there's not a single scene that Galvin does not have a drink outside of the scenes in the courtroom and as he chases down witnesses).

Galvin is aided by Mickey Morrissey and becomes distracted by new woman in town Laura Fischer. Galvin is up against Edward Concannon, an exceptional lawyer who is not a raging alcoholic. Concannon represents two prominent doctors responsible for mis-medicating the woman now in a coma with brain damage. Concannon, being well-paid by the hospital and diocese that runs the hospital, is able to make Galvin's case almost impossible to win by buying off Galvin's prominent witnesses before the case begins and . . . using other underhanded tactics. If I were to tell you what that tactic was, it would ruin the surprise that comes in the last quarter of the film.

The strength of this film is in the characters and their actors. Paul Newman, looking like Louis Rukeyser throughout the film, plays Frank Galvin wonderfully, adding much distinction to a well-written role. In fact, one of the films greatest moments of acting comes from Newman when his character realizes his new star witness is black. There is a moment when his face betrays something between surprise and disappointment and frustration and Newman pulls the moment off well. In fact, the disappointing aspect of that specific scene is that it gets addressed; it works better with the audience inferring Galvin's discomfort than Concannon's explicit manipulations of that situation. The surprise, however, is in Jack Warden's portrayal of Mickey. He takes what is ostensibly a supporting role and lends great presence to it. More often than I would have expected, I was watching his face, his reaction to events and while the expectation was I, or any viewer, would be keeping an eye on Newman, Warden's expressions and mannerisms were consistent and genuine.

The plot, the actual case, was interesting and the development of it was well executed. The other strength is in the fact that the film is dated. It's very much a slice of 1982's interpretation of 1980. The characters are all smoking constantly, many of the religious respects are shown when appropriate and the relationships between the characters are all conforming to a sense of 80s dramatics. I rate this as a strength of the film. Why? Because it is very genuine. It is very easy to suspend disbelief and put ourselves in the time and place that the movie takes place. That is to say, it is a very complete painting of the time and place, so while I am usually sensitive to things like prejudice and overt cigarette smoking in whatever medium I'm viewing, I accept it in this film because it is so complete in enveloping the viewer. Simply, it works.

What takes more to bare is the pacing. While the first hour of the film is spent building up important aspects of character, it's slow. It takes much patience to watch this film. As the plot developed, I was frustrated by the addition of the love plot between Galvin and Laura. The viewer is rewarded for this apparent distraction, as it becomes integral to the main plot. As the film progresses, Galvin and the movie gain momentum. It's worth the patience for the payoff.

For other films where the law is a prominent component, please check out my reviews of:
Flash Of Genius
The Social Network
Wall Street


For other film reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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