Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Featured Movie: The Verdict

TheVerdict is probably my favorite law movie of all time. I am enamored with its ironies and thoughtful inquiries into the civil justice system.

Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) is a one time promising lawyer, now down on his luck after being victimized by ethically challenged legal employers. He has a case that is sure to get him back on his financial feet - a malpractice case against a hospital run by the powerful Archdiocese of Boston. A young mother is given a general anesthetic during childbirth and aspirates into her mask. The oxygen deprivation leaves her comatose. A settlement is all but assured, until Frank decides that he has an obligation to pursue the case to a verdict to expose the wrongdoers. But is it justice that Frank seeks or his own personal redemption?

In the eyes of many, it is usually the lawyer who wants the settlement money and the client that wants justice. In a beautifully designed reversal of roles Frank's clients, the victim's sister and her husband, are seeking a settlement to set up a perpetual care fund for their loved one before departing to Arizona to pursue work and better health.  In a key scene, Frank, who is initially portrayed as a low life, turns down the substantial settlement offer to pursue "justice."  It is the first time that Frank exhibits any redeeming qualities.  Of course, it is also the moment when he breaches his professional obligation to his clients.

The movie examines issues of disparity of resources in civil litigation, professional ethics, civil settlements, the adversarial system, and the very nature of justice in the civil system.  In a final irony, the only way justice can be acheived in court, is to ignore the law. Galvin's summation is a signal cinematic moment.

The Verdict earned 5 academy award nominations including best picture, best actor (Newman) and best supprting actor (James Mason as insurance counsel Ed Concannon).

The movie is based on the novel of the same name written by Boston attorney Barry Reed.  For legal popular culture buffs, it is interesting to note that Reed is the lawyer who referred to Jan Schlictmann the Woburn, MA leukemia case that was the subject of the book and movie, A Civil Action.

Read Reviews. I have guided viewing questions available to share for educational purposes if you e-mail me at mark.deangelis@uconn.edu.

Other law movies featured in this blog: The Rainmaker; My Cousin Vinny

Watch the trailer:

Watch Galvin's summation at the American Movie Speeches site.

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