“Why are you doing this?”
“To do the right thing. Isn’t that why you’re doing it?”
So I’ve decided to review movies in reverse order by decade, starting with Erin Brockovich (2000-09), moving then to A Few Good Men (1990-99), and now to the 80s with The Verdict. The next movie will be from the 70s, a decade I had no part of and won’t take the blame for, so I welcome suggestions.
We’ll see if the cycle repeats after I hit the 50s, or if I just go random after that (again, suggestions welcomed.)
Anyhoo, this was the second time I’ve seen The Verdict, but I really didn’t remember the details (my wife did and totally ruined it about 34 minutes in, but I digress.) Paul Newman and his steely blue eyes play out-of-luck trial lawyer, Frank Galvin. Galvin’s life has been spiraling out of control for awhile. He’s an alcoholic, smokes, physically abusive, and spends his sober moments wallowing in self-pity. Also, he’s addicted to pinball.
Now I know first-hand how unemployment isn’t exactly uplifting, but GOOD GOD this guy’s sadder than the guys who torched me in the comment section on Above the Law (see? I’m not actually above that.) I mean, my wife has shouldered a lot of my “there’s no light!” moments in the last few months, but at least I’m not slurping down raw eggs at a pub for breakfast. Even Rocky kept that in the privacy of his own home.
Galvin’s been handed one last case by his only friend, and former law professor, Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden). It’s a medical malpractice suit and Mickey believes Galvin can pretty easily parlay it into a hefty settlement and retire off the contingency fee. We’re talking $200k, apparently a fortune if you’re either living in 1982 or Dr. Evil. Galvin’s on board with the plan. The plaintiff’s family members — absolutely worn out after four years of watching their sister lie motionless in a vegetative coma — are on board. And the defendants, a Church-sponsored hospital and two well respected doctors, are willing to pay to keep things quiet.
So why doesn’t this case settle? Is it the doctor who first suggests to Galvin that his co-workers “murdered” the girl by giving her the wrong anesthetic? Is it Galvin’s misguided attempt at personal redemption – his last chance at going all in instead of settling to live out the rest of his life?
I think there’s more going on here. In a silent and odd scene, Galvin goes to photograph the victim prior to a pre-trial settlement conference. He figures a few Polaroids will play on the defendants’ pathos and, maybe more effectively, their fear of a jury’s. In the midst of shooting, Galvin stops and thereafter decides he’s going to represent the victim and not her family. It’s actually pretty unfair; Galvin’s sort of indifferent to their plight throughout the movie, and assuming they’ve got a power of attorney to bring an action on her behalf (or something, someone help me out here), he is supposed to listen to them, or at the very least let them know about any settlement offers.
I made a similar point in my review of Erin Brockovich, but it came out again here. Galvin is different from the victim’s family. He hasn’t been there for four years, standing by her side and watching her slowly deteriorate. That’s why he’s able see past the unfortunate fact that she’s so difficult to care for and instead see the tragedy that befell her. Now, he can only guess as to whether she’d rather him fight at trial and try to bring these doctors to justice or just make things easier for her family. Honestly, I think he guesses wrong, but he does pick a side, and that’s the first thing he needs before deciding on whether to accept a settlement offer.
Summary Judgment: Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t do this movie justice. There’s simply too much going on. The dialogue is fantastic throughout (I found myself writing down every line) and the noir cinematography is stunning. If you haven’t seen it, rent it. If you have seen it, rent it. There’s obviously more to say, so I’ll have to revisit this film in the future. I haven’t even touched the trial or the supporting characters like Mickey or Ed Concannon (James Mason), the brilliant opposing counsel. Again taking suggestions for the next movie in the comments bar — must be from the 70s, though. Till’ next time, the keyboard is closed.