The Verdict (1982)

Verdict1Paul Newman is one of those people who bring other people into theaters. They’ll watch him on reruns when they’re surfing through the channels or tell their children and grandchildren about him. That’s just it. He’s a universal actor who transcends the years with his magnetism and charisma. A lot of folks would follow him to the ends of the earth cinematically-speaking, and he plays the bums and ne’er do wells like nobody else.

In some ways, it seems like he should have no place in the film like The Verdict. It’s a slow, brooding drama that churns and grinds methodically through a script courtesy of David Mamet, adapted from Barry Reed’s novel. It’s completely void of humor or charm in many respects. It’s bitter and battered, personified by Frank Galvin, a washed-up lawyer drowning in booze and drifting in a fog of cigarette smoke. His pedigree isn’t so hot either. In the last three years, he’s had four cases and has not won a single one. To make matters worse, he’s an ambulance chaser, the type of prosecutor that every self-respecting citizen would scoff at with contempt.

The film generally lacks polish or pizzazz for that matter, but Paul Newman and director Sidney Lumet are well-established professionals, who know how to develop the courtroom drama in such a way that it remains compelling. All the necessary bits and pieces are there to go along with generally stark and somber visuals.

James Mason is the opposition, a white-haired man with a penchant for winning and doing his homework so that all the holes are stopped up. He’s representing not only two renowned doctors but also the Archdiocese of Boston since they own St. Catherine’s hospital. Galvin’s mentor and colleague is Mickey (Jack Warden), who watches out for him despite his many failings. Being divorced, Frank also tries to find companionship with the aloof beauty Laura (Charlotte Rampling).

Galvin is tempted by a giant settlement, but there’s something inside of himself that says, take the case to trial. Of course, right from the beginning, it’s a train wreck, because he cannot find the witnesses he needs, and Ed Concannon is a real pro with an extensive legal team to do his bidding. On the other side of the room, you only have Frank and Mickey.

They’re able to dig up key witness Kaitlin Costello, although Concannon turns that against them as well. Furthermore, Frank learns something about Laura that doesn’t help. And there we are at the end of the case, a gray-haired lawyer sitting there seemingly defeated. But he does the only thing he can do, in all sincerity plead with the members of the jury to do what is right and just. That is all he can do.

Some might find comparisons to The Verdict in Lumet’s earlier masterpiece 12 Angry Men, including the casting of Jack Warden and Edward Binns. However, I think what makes the director’s courtroom dramas work so well is that they really don’t dwell too much on the actual courtroom. 12 Angry Men is about the discussion going on behind closed doors and The Verdict concerns itself with all that is going on outside in preparation. We see Frank for who he is in the office and out of it. Thus, by the time we actually get into that court of law there’s so much more riding on this verdict.

What’s especially striking about Newman’s performance is that there is almost a complete absence of drama. There is one violent outburst and aside from that, it’s as if he’s utterly fed up with the world. Throwing his hands up in a sense and giving in. Instead, he plays pinball or sits pensively with a drink in hand. That’s why this case is so important because it means something. It signifies an attempt to care again about right and wrong. But the question is, Does anything actually change in the character of Frank Galvin? We leave him sulking in his office, slowly nursing yet another drink as the phone rings out in the silence. What’s the verdict then? Is he a winner or a loser? I’m not sure he even knows the answer to that question.

4/5 Stars

Never Let Me Go (2010)

neverletmego1The film is adapted from the novel of  British author Kazuo Ishiguro, who also penned The Remains of the Day. Having not read the source material, I was obliged to take this material on its own merit and so here it goes. This is a numbing, wistful, sorrowful film and the dystopia is set in England circa 1978 in a boarding school. That’s where we first meet the students at Hailsham, who are special individuals with an important purpose in society. They will grow up to be “Carers” and “Donors” in society so that others might be given life. Although it’s an important role it ultimately means a shorter life expectancy compared to normal individuals and they are completely isolated from the outside world until their adult years.

The main people of interest are Kathy, who quickly befriends Tommy, a boy who is often made fun of, and she is secretly smitten. But as time passes one of her closest companions Ruth steals him away from her despite constantly making fun of him initially. Now as they get ready to move onto the next stage of their lives at The Cottage, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is noticeably still hurt that Tommy (Andrew Garfield) is with Ruth (Keira Knightley) and not her. That plagues her and tears her apart inside. You can see it in her eyes and body language, although she never says it explicitly. It’s there.

I must admit, not having read the novel, I have a feeling I did not grasp all the ins and outs of this world, but I did understand what this love triangle meant for those involved. Also, in the back of their minds, they know life as they know it will be ending soon enough. After years pass Kathy is now a “Carer” and is reconnected with both her old friends, who look a lot more gaunt than they ever did before. Ruth admits she should never have come between the other two and they do get together, but it seems far too late for another love story.

neverletmego2Never Let Me Go speaks to the transience of life, the limited time we have on this earth because in the case of these characters life is even shorter. It got to me with its melancholy and I don’t mean that it simply saddened my mood, but by the denouement, I felt deeply affected. Keira Knightley’s role seemed rather unextraordinary although necessary. The real interest for me was watching the relationship form between Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield before being quickly taken away. Then hearing the narration of Mulligan as she tries to make sense of this story and what has happened. On a lighter note, the hairstyles in the film are quite impressive with the bangs and whatever Garfield has going on there near the beginning.

3.5/5 Stars