Picks and Pans Review: The Verdict

updated 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Verdict is a film about justice, and there isn't any if Paul Newman doesn't win an Oscar for it. In a 28-year film career, Newman has been nominated five times—for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice—but the Academy has never seemed able to see past those bedazzling blues to the intelligent, passionate actor behind them. This is its chance to make right on past wrongs. Newman plays a chiseling, alcoholic Boston lawyer using a hospital malpractice suit as a last shot at regaining his integrity. There's nothing he can do about his looks (at 57, he's still staggeringly handsome), but Newman captures the corruption and moral fatigue eating at his character. To watch an actor who can make millions coasting (as he did in Towering Inferno) take such a daring gamble with his star image and come up aces is exhilarating. Except for a few lapses of logic and some melodramatic moments in the courtroom, David Mamet's script from Barry Reed's novel is unusually incisive. And director Sidney (Network) Lumet has never been this good with actors. James Mason is brilliant and bitingly funny as Newman's high-priced legal adversary, Milo O'Shea makes a canny old hoot of the judge, Lindsay Crouse (Mrs. Mamet) is unforgettably moving as a key witness, and Jack Warden as Newman's ex-partner may well be the best character man in the business. Even chilly Charlotte Rampling, whose role seems cosmetically attached to give Newman a love interest, finds ways to make it more. The Verdict is a film manufactured out of old parts but put together by experts in a way that demands fresh attention and respect. Besides Newman at his peak, it offers the best ensemble acting in any American film this year. (R)

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