A solidly old-fashioned courtroom drama such as ”The Verdict” could have gotten by with a serious, measured performance from its leading man, or it could have worked well with a dazzling movie-star turn. The fact that Paul Newman delivers both makes a clever, suspenseful, entertaining movie even better.
This is as good a role as Mr. Newman has ever had, and as shrewd and substantial a performance as he has ever given, although it may not be his most entirely credible. Mr. Newman begins the story as a lonely, washed-up, pathetic has-been lawyer. Not exactly typecasting, and not the sort of thing he does terribly convincingly. Of course, his luck is about to change. Mr. Newman plays Frank Galvin, first seen drinking, playing pinball in the daytime and bribing funeral-home operators to let him pass his business cards to the bereaved, like a South Carolina injury lawyer. Sidney Lumet’s ”The Verdict,” watches him rise to an important challenge, shake off the cobwebs, resuscitate his law practice and fight furiously to help good triumph over evil. As nearmiraculous transformations go, this one’s not bad at all, considering the fact that it’s accomplished in only slightly over two hours’ screen time.