The man is a failure ... he's a failure because circumstances made him so. He's no different than you and me. He's just unlucky. And you know how it is. Adversity calls adversity. You lose your job, your wife leaves you, you start drinking, you can't have another job back and like that, you're labeled as a failure, a loser. Frank Galvin, played by Paul Newman, is one of them. A loser. A Boston lawyer, he became what they call an "ambulance chaser". A man who gives you a card during your father's funeral to tell you he was a friend of him. The first scenes of Lumet's "The Verdict" clearly announces the character as a man who's not your typical Paul Newman's character, he's no Hud, no Cool Hand Luke, no Eddie Felson, yet it's one of the most brilliant and masterful performances from the late actor.
Frank Galvin hasn't solved a case in years. He hasn't won anything. He developed a 'brilliant' reputation that totally discredited him in the profession. Obviously, something must change in his life and Galvin, although not much appreciated, has one true friend : Mick, played by the late Jack Warden, who manages to get him a golden case to get back on the rails. A guaranteed win if Galvin accepts. He does, but for selfish reasons, at least at first. He cares for people, he cares for the case, but something is burning inside him: he cares for himself. There is a profound desire of redemption calling from the bottom of his soul, he tries to find the right way and this case is the promised land for him. A young mother condemned to coma for the rest of her life, for what appears to be a medical error. Obviously, Galvin can't fail.
BUT. What is failure? and what is success? That's the genius of the film. When Galvin takes snapshots of the poor victim, he realizes one thing he didn't quite get at the beginning. She's a victim of a criminal injustice. It's clear. Any other thing is a lie, any other attempt to silence the truth is criminal, and anyone who accepts that is accomplice. Anyone who accepts anything he believes against, whether because it is untrue or unjust, is a weak. The weak is the one who doesn't believe in his own principles, by not following them. The weak can win if he joins the liars, the cheaters, the winners, to win by default, but he'll always be weak, because he doesn't believe in himself, and will forever live with that. There's no salvation for the weak even if he wins. Galvin might be a loser, but he's not weak.
Galvin is flawed, indeed. He has many weaknesses, alcohol being the biggest one, but his evolution all through the movie is a great example of an inspiring character study, from the brilliant director, Sidney Lumet (who, in 1982, had an already impressive and qualitative filmography). Galvin shows how justice is an abstract but powerful idea that can only live through our deep faith in our success in the quest for truth, because what is true, implies justice. Justice's blindness is a noble concept except when the blindness is deliberate. That is corruption, blinding justice, disguising it, using influence to silence it. Galvin despises this kind of corruption, refuses the generous offer from the opposite side, who like the people he defends, doesn't want a trial and prefers an out-of-court settlement. But HIS mission is personal, though he doesn't fight for selfish reasons anymore, but for his idea of justice. And hell yes, they'll go to trial.
It's quite ironic that the movie lost the Best Picture Award to "Gandhi", when Galvin is almost a Gandhi-like figure when you examine his ideas and beliefs. Everything is against him, yet he believes he's right. Gandhi said "Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth", this is Galvin's spirit. He believes in himself, he's given a mission that will redeem him, by bringing justice to the unfortunate couple, to a family devastated by the loss of a young woman. In this case, the opposite side is defended by the powerful, suave, charmingly villainous, Ed Concannon, brilliantly portrayed by James Mason. Concannon practices law with such perfectionism and obedience, the case is like David vs. Goliath. Evertyhing seems lost, everyone is against Galvin, including a memorable one-sided judge. But he goes on, despite his fears, his mistakes, his clumsiness, the way he seems so unsure of his words ... Frank Galvin doesn't have the phlegm of Atticus Finch, nor the flamboyance of Hans Rolfe, or the charisma of Arthur Kirkland, but his weaknesses make him 'strong' and the case 'personal' in the noblest sense of the word.
This movie is probably one of the greatest courtroom dramas ever directed, because it gives its true meaning to the word 'justice'. Justice is not about values, it's about faith, it's a blind faith which makes us take all the risks, because ironically, justice can only be accomplished through 'illegal' ways when the opposite side buries important elements under obscure judiciary concepts and in these cases, when the system is against Justice. Frank Galvin was against the system, and believed in Justice. He's a hero.
Frank Galvin fought for an idea of Justice threatened by the system, men like the judge or Concannon, who make justice, sometimes, unfair. "The Verdict" is the greatest courtroom drama because it is the one that gives you the greatest faith in justice ...
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