Newman was in the midst of his “remember how good an actor I am?” tour in the 80s. After receiving four Oscar nominations for Best Actor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), and Cool Hand Luke (1967), he hit a dry period in the 1970s. He was then nominated again for Absence of Malice (1981), The Verdict (1982), and finally won the Oscar for The Color of Money (1986). He would get two more nominations for Nobody’s Fool (1994) and Road to Perdition (2002) – Supporting Actor for the latter. I believe only Jack Nicholson (12) and Laurence Olivier (10) have more Oscar nominations among actors. (Meryl Streep, of course, leads among actresses).
Newman isn’t the only big name associated with this film. It was directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network), who would receive his fourth Best Director Oscar nomination. The screenplay was written by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross), who received his first Oscar nomination for adapting the story from the Barry Reed novel of the same name.
Also in the cast was James Mason (Lolita) as the opposing attorney. He would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Jack Warden (12 Angry Men) plays the friend and associate of Newman’s character and Charlotte Rampling plays a love interest.
The film opens with attorney Frank Galvin (Newman) trying to hustle up business by handing his card out at funerals. Other than that he just seems to spend his time drinking at a bar and playing pinball. His friend Mickey Morrissey (Warden) checks in with him because he hasn’t been able to get a hold of him. Morrissey passed a case along to Galvin as a favor. It should be an open and shut case of a hospital using the wrong anesthetic, which left a patient in a vegetative state. A quick out of court settlement should net Galvin a good chunk of change – something he badly needs.
After viewing the victim, though, Galvin has a change of heart. He starts to remember the man he once was before he was framed for jury tampering and started to live out of a bottle. He realizes he has a chance to accomplish some actual justice if he takes this case to court and exposes the people who did this. He refuses the settlement that the hospital offers.
He has also met someone new at his bar. Her name is Laura Fischer (Rampling) and she at first doesn’t respond to Galvin’s charm, but as he starts to open up to her about how important this case is, she warms to him. Things are looking up.
Unfortunately for Galvin, he hasn’t tried a successful case in years, and the hospital has hired the best defense attorney in
– Ed Concannon (Mason). To make matters worse, the defendants have witnesses saying that the doctors did not use the wrong anesthetic – that the patient had an unforeseeable complication which could not be helped. They also have a ton of money to buy the best expert witnesses and to research everything about Galvin and his case. All Galvin has is his rusty skills, his friend Mickey, and at first a doctor who supports him because he believes that malpractice should not be tolerated. It’s a huge blow for Galvin when he finds this doctor all of a sudden has taken a vacation and is unreachable – Concannon has paid him off. Galvin now scrambles though the night trying to line up anybody to support his case. Boston
Once he gets to court he finds even the judge is hostile to him. He wanted Galvin to just settle in the first place to avoid the bother of a trial and he has little patience for him. At one point he even interrupts Galvin’s questioning of a witness because he wants to get it over with so he can get to lunch. Outside the courtroom Galvin keeps coming back to the fact that every single person in the operating room is testifying for the defense – except one nurse. Why is she not involved in the trial?
One little touch that I liked is that every time Galvin meets with the defendants or their lawyers they all set an alcoholic drink next to him – even the Catholic Bishop whose diocese runs the hospital. Their money let them find out all about his weakness for booze and they want to both overtly tell him they know, and they want to put him on the defensive when he meets with them. Also notice that Galvin never drinks any of them as his own little way to push back on them.
There is also a twist in the movie that you may see coming pretty easily, depending on how much you believe in coincidences.
One other interesting thing I want to point out. After you have finished watching the film, go back to when Galvin starts his final address to the jury at just about the 2 hour mark. Look in the courtroom audience. Sitting two rows behind the sister and brother-in-law of the victim, and framed right between them, is an uncredited “before he was a star” appearance by Bruce Willis as an extra. Now look in the row in front of Willis, and a little to the screen left of him, and you will see Tobin Bell (the Saw movies) as another uncredited extra. You can get the best look at both of them at the 2:02:15 mark.
In case you are wondering, I did not notice either of them when I watched the film. I was focused on Newman, and you should do the same the first time through. I later found out both were in the audience, popped the DVD back in at that scene because I remembered it showed most of the courtroom, and lo and behold, there they were.
The reason to see this film is for the people who made it. Lumet, Mamet, and especially Newman did great jobs. Unless you hate courtroom dramas, I recommend you give this film a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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