“There are no other cases; this is the case.”
An ambulance-chasing lawyer (Paul Newman) is hired by the sister (Roxanne Hart) and brother-in-law (James Handy) of a woman put into an irreversible coma during childbirth after being given incorrect anesthesia by an attending doctor (Wesley Addy). Newman refuses to take the generous settlement offered by the head (James Mason) of the hospital’s representing firm, instead relying on the assistance of his mentor (Jack Warden) and his new love interest (Charlotte Rampling) to take the case to court — despite the overt disapproval of the presiding judge (Milo O’Shea).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Character Arc
- Charlotte Rampling Films
- Courtroom Drama
- James Mason Films
- Paul Newman Films
- Sidney Lumet Films
Paul Newman gives a stand-out performance in this Sidney Lumet-directed character study about a seemingly lost-cause alcoholic who has all but given up on his career, only to find himself revived by a “last chance” case. David Mamet’s screenplay keeps us deeply invested in this likable but sad-sack man who continually makes questionable choices in both his personal and professional lives. When he refuses Mason’s settlement without consulting his clients, we suddenly realize our allegiance has been skewed towards him and his interests rather than the case he’s taken on — at which point we’re joltingly reminded of his imperfections, and given a broad hint at the impetuousness that likely landed him in his current situation. The entire cast is spot-on, from Newman’s arch-rival Mason, to bushy-browed Irish O’Shea, to the inscrutable Rampling. Because this is a “Mamet story”, one major character turns out to be not-who-they-seem, and others — all nuanced — demonstrate unexpected sides of themselves. Sidney Lumet’s direction is a marvel of deliberately paced, strategically framed scenes, without quick editing or too many close-ups. We witness scenes taking place in Newman’s apartment, at a local bar, in the courtroom, and on the streets of Boston; as usual, Lumet makes excellent use of all settings, and is ably assisted by DP Andrzej Bartkowiak (who worked with him on Prince of the City the previous year). In sum, this is one of Lumet’s best, and an all-around “great show”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Paul Newman as Frank Galvin (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- James Mason as Ed Concannon
- Fine supporting performances
- Andrzej Bartkowiak’s cinematography
- Lumet’s accomplished direction
- Excellent use of Boston locales
- David Mamet’s screenplay
Yes, as a true “modern” classic. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
- Genuine Classic
- Noteworthy Performance(s)
- Oscar Winner or Nominee