Friday, March 7, 2014

From the Vaults: The Verdict

Sometimes I wonder if Paul Newman's legacy is becoming better known from the grocery store shelves than from the cinema. I recently purchased a jar of Newman's Own "Sockarooni" pasta sauce and it occurred to me that perhaps a younger generation might only know that smiling face on the label from these fine charity-funding pasta sauces and salad dressings; not as one of the greatest actors of a generation.  

Hopefully the recent addition of 1982's "The Verdict" to Netflix will give younger eyeballs a look at Newman's gifts beyond selling tasty sauces. The film was a critical smash for Newman, legendary director Sidney Lumet and then-budding screenwriter David Mamet, who earned a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He lost to the film Missing.

The 1983 Academy Awards, it must be noted, was a powerhouse year and Gandhi cleaned up most categories. But check out its competition: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, An Officer and A Gentleman and Das Boot. Diner and Sophie's Choice were also in the mix, which is somewhat mind-boggling because all these films have gone to earn classic or near-classic status.    

Newman himself was on quite a role at the time. He was nominated for Best Actor the year prior for Absence of Malice; lost the same category to Ben Kingsley in '83, but then nailed it two years later when he revived pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson for the Color of Money. The only misstep during this phenomenal stretch was a directorial flop called Harry & Son, which co-starred the much-maligned, at least by me, Robby Benson.

Blue-collar Harry blasts his writerly son. 
In Verdict, he plays a hard-boozing, ambulance-chasing lawyer named Frank Galvin. The kind of guy who crashes funerals to pass out his business card and drinks a raw egg in the morning to kill off the daily hangover (does that actually work?). His friend, Jack Warden, gives him a straightforward malpractice lawsuit that all he has to do is accept a cheque and take his third of it. But Frank's conscience gets in the way.

He decides to fight for the victim, take on the powerful doctors and their high-priced lawyers who have the judge on their side and a moll messing with Newman's life. He doesn't stand a chance right? There's no way he can win this case! Courtroom dramas end the way you expect, but this one has a huge emotional payoff.

Newman is vulnerable; a man who's given up on himself. He had settled into a life of comfortable failure and now he's being forced to confront responsibility and expectation. He would run from it if he could, but there's a girl in a vegetative state that won't allow it. Newman looks tired, defeated and you feel such empathy for him in a scene where he retreats to a bathroom in the midst of a panic attack.

And guess what? He doesn't give up drinking in the end, as shown in a great final scene where he savours both victory and a personal defeat.

I highly recommend this film as well as Sockarooni pasta sauce, which contains "peppers, spices and the whole shebang!" Here you can find recipes using the sauce, like Vegetarian Sloppy Paul's. I'm sure it taste better than it sounds.

No comments: