|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Screenplay by||David Mamet|
|Based on||The Verdict|
by Barry Reed
|Produced by||David Brown|
Richard D. Zanuck
|Edited by||Peter C. Frank|
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$54 million|
The Verdict is a 1982 American legal drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet from Barry Reed's 1980 novel of the same name. It stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. In the story, a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer accepts a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing.
The Verdict garnered critical acclaim and box office success. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Mason), and Best Adapted Screenplay (David Mamet).
Once-promising attorney Frank Galvin, framed for jury tampering years ago, was fired from his elite Boston firm and is now an alcoholic ambulance chaser whose practice is on the verge of collapse. As a favor, his friend and former teacher, Mickey Morrissey, sends him a medical malpractice case in which it is all but assured that the defense will settle for a large amount. The case involves a young woman given an anesthetic during childbirth, after which she choked on her vomit and was deprived of oxygen. The woman is now comatose and on a ventilator. Her sister and brother-in-law are hoping for a monetary award in order to give her proper care. Frank assures them they have a strong case.
Frank visits the comatose woman and is deeply affected. Later, a representative of the Catholic hospital where the incident took place offers a substantial settlement. Without consulting the family, Frank declines the offer and states his intention to take the case to trial, stunning all parties including the presiding judge and the victim's relatives. Meanwhile, Frank, who is lonely, becomes romantically involved with Laura, a woman he had spotted earlier in a bar.
Frank's case quickly experiences several devastating setbacks. His client's brother-in-law learns from "the other side" that Frank rejected the settlement and angrily confronts him. His star medical expert disappears, and 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, has at his disposal a large legal team that is masterful with the press. The presiding judge, who despises Frank, undermines his questioning of the substitute. No one who was in the operating room is willing to testify that negligence occurred. Concannon is revealed to be paying Laura to provide inside information on Galvin's legal strategy, which she does, albeit unhappily.
Frank's break comes when he discovers that Kaitlin Costello, the nurse who admitted his client to the hospital, is now a pre-school teacher in New York. Frank travels there to seek her help, leaving Mickey and Laura working together in Frank's office. Mickey discovers a check from Concannon in her handbag and infers that Laura is a mole, providing information to the opposing counsel. Mickey flies to New York to tell Frank about Laura's betrayal; confronting her in a bar, Frank strikes Laura hard enough to knock her to the floor. Mickey later suggests having the case declared a mistrial due to Concannon's ethics violations, but Frank decides to continue.
Costello testifies that shortly after the patient had become comatose, the anesthesiologist (one of the two doctors on trial, along with the archdiocese of Boston) told her to change her notes on the admitting form to hide his fatal error. She had written down that the patient had eaten a full meal only one hour before being admitted. The doctor had failed to read the admitting notes and, in ignorance, administered an anesthetic that should never have been given to a patient with a full stomach. As a result, the patient vomited and choked.
Costello further testifies that, when the anesthesiologist realized his mistake, he met with Costello in private and threatened her job unless she changed the number "1" to the number "9" on her admitting notes. But before she made the change Costello had made a photocopy of the notes, which she brought with her to court. Concannon quickly turns the situation around by getting the judge to declare the nurse's testimony stricken from the record on the technicality that she possesses a copy, but for legal purposes the original is presumed to be correct. Afterwards a diocese lawyer praises Concannon's performance to the defendant bishop, who asks "but do you believe her?" and is met with embarrassed silence.
Feeling that his case is hopeless, Frank gives a brief but passionate closing argument. In the end the jury finds in favor of Frank's clients. The foreman asks the judge whether the jury can award more than the amount the plaintiffs sought; the judge resignedly replies that they can. As Frank is congratulated, he catches a glimpse of Laura watching him across the atrium.
That night, Laura, in a drunken stupor on her bed, drops her whiskey on the floor, drags the phone toward her and calls Frank. As the phone rings, Frank sits in his office with a cup of coffee. He moves to answer but ultimately declines the call.
Film rights to the novel were bought by the team of Richard Zanuck and David Brown. A number of actors, including Roy Scheider, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Dustin Hoffman, expressed interest in the project because of the strength of the lead role. Arthur Hiller was originally attached to direct while David Mamet hired to write a screenplay.
Though Mamet had already made a name for himself in the theater, he was still new to screenwriting. The producers were uncertain whether Mamet would take the job given the standards he set with his own previous work, but according to Lindsay Crouse, who was then married to Mamet, the film was actually a big deal for him. Crouse also recalled Mamet struggling initially with Galvin's closing summation, but he finally came up with the scene after staying up an entire evening working on it.
Mamet's original draft ended the film right after the jury left the courtroom for deliberations, giving no resolution to the case. Neither Zanuck and Brown believed they could make the film without showing what happened, and Zanuck met with Mamet to convince him to re-write the ending. However, Mamet told Zanuck that the ending he wanted was "old-fashioned" and would hurt the film. He also reacted negatively to Zanuck's use of sarcasm to make his point, as Zanuck claimed his copy of the script was missing its final pages before telling Mamet the film title would need a question mark after it.
Hiller did not like Mamet's script either and left the project. The producers commissioned another screenplay from Jay Presson Allen, which they preferred, and they were later approached by Robert Redford to star in the film when he obtained a copy of the script from Allen.
Redford suggested they hire James Bridges as a writer-director, and he had Bridges write several drafts of the screenplay, more or less sanitizing the lead character as he was concerned about playing a hard-drinking womanizer. Neither the producers nor Redford were happy with the rewrites and soon Bridges left the project. Redford then began having meetings with Sydney Pollack without telling the producers; irritated, they fired Redford.
Zanuck and Brown then hired Sidney Lumet to direct, sending him all versions of the script. After several rewrites, Lumet decided the story's original grittiness was fast devolving and chose Mamet's original script. This was agreed to by Paul Newman, who ultimately agreed to star. Lumet recalled that they only had to rework one or two scenes, mainly giving the trial a resolution as Zanuck and Brown had originally requested. Unlike Zanuck, when Lumet approached Mamet, he was able to get his approval to make that change to his original work.
Lumet then personally cast Warden and Mason, both of whom he had worked with before. In Mason's case, he wasn't sure if the renowned actor would be willing to take a supporting role, but Mason liked Mamet's script so much that he did not object.
Before shooting began, Lumet held extensive dress rehearsals, which was standard practice for Lumet's films but not common on Hollywood productions. Newman was very appreciative as they proved crucial in developing his performance, giving him the time he needed to tap into the emotional bankruptcy of his character.
At one point during production, Newman barely avoided injury and possible death when a light estimated to weigh several hundred pounds fell about three feet away from him after breaking through the wooden planks holding it up. The planks were believed to have been weakened by overnight exposure to rainfall.
Bruce Willis has an uncredited background appearance as an extra in the final courtroom scene, in one of his first film appearances. Tobin Bell also appears, to Willis's right.[better source needed]
The producers were reluctant to keep the scene where Newman strikes Rampling, believing it would turn the audience against his character and even damage his public image. However Newman insisted on keeping it, believing it was right for the film.
After the film was finished, the studio's executives sent Lumet several suggestions and urged him to shoot a new ending when Newman's character picks up the phone, but Zanuck relayed to them that Lumet had final cut and the film would remain as-is.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 89%, with an average rating of 7.8/10, based on 35 reviews. The website's "Critics Consensus" for the film reads: "Paul Newman is at the peak of his powers as an attorney who never lived up to his potential in The Verdict, supported by David Mamet's crackling script and Sidney Lumet's confident direction." In a poll of 500 films held by Empire magazine, it was voted 254th Greatest Movie of all time. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay No. 91 on its list of the "101 greatest screenplays ever written". Richard D. Pepperman praised the scene in which Judge Hoyle eats breakfast and offers Galvin coffee as "a terrific use of objects, making for a believable judge in his personal, comfortable and suitable place, as well as a Physical Action (motion) that demonstrates the subtext of the Judge's objective (in support of the insurance company, the doctor and their attorney) without an abundance of expository dialogue."
The film opened in 3 theaters in New York City and grossed $143,265 in its first 5 days. The following weekend it expanded to 615 screens and grossed $2,331,805, finishing seventh for the weekend, and went on to gross $54 million.
The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists: