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PopGap #22: The Verdict (1982)

PopGap #22: The Verdict (1982)

Written by dorrk
12 December 2016

When they give you the money, that means you've won!

When I last reviewed The Verdict — 15 or so years ago upon its DVD release — I gave it two stars, lambasting David Mamet's weak and unconvincing script, and Newman's dull performance. (Click here to see my review from 1989!) I saw it a bit differently this time around.

While the story of The Verdict is certainly somewhat ordinary — a washed up, booze-soaked lawyer takes on a big case hoping for redemption — Mamet's writing is lean and careful, and director Sidney Lumet allows his movie's substantial themes to marinate without pomp in the many dark and quiet corners of the bars, libraries, offices, hospitals and courtrooms in which it is set. the simplicity of the narrative, especially at the end, is not always directly satisfying, but neither does Lumet oversell it, instead leaving a sombre question of discontent stirring within the framework of its formula.

As for Newman, well, he is spectacular at this kind of less-is-more introspection, selling grave and rueful self-loathing with the slightest shifts of face and body, allowing only a sliver of suspicious hope to leak into his gruff-but-somehow-still-boyish voice. Even when sitting perfectly still, consumed by thought and half lost in shadow, he is a magnetic force throughout The Verdict, which is worth seeing for his performance alone. With Jack Warden, James Mason and Milo O'shea giving colorfully minimalist performances in the margins, the only real problem with The Verdict (aside from some terrible music, which seems to be Lumet's albatross) is the poorly written role thanklessly assigned to Charlotte Rampling, who is given nothing to do but stare into space with pointless-if-striking detachment. Both as a character and a device, she feels like an afterthought uselessly shoehorned into a completed script.

MovieLens suggested The Verdict as similar to a movie from my Top 20 movies, The Godfather. In terms of production quality, it is an excellent match. The Verdict shares The Godfather's hushed, deliberate and naturally dark tonality and is full of performances that reveal by attempting to conceal. Aesthetically, The Verdict — through cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak and first-time production designer Edward Pisoni — hits enough of my buttons with dead aim that its craftsmanship more than compensates for its comparative lack of narrative density.

PopGap #22: The Verdict (1982)

Trailer for the Verdict (1982)