1984 – Places in the Heart

1984 - Places in the Heart - 01 1984 - Places in the Heart - 02 1984 - Places in the Heart - 03 1984 - Places in the Heart - 04 1984 - Places in the Heart - 05 1984 - Places in the Heart - 06 1984 - Places in the Heart - 07 1984 - Places in the Heart - 08 1984 - Places in the Heart - 09











Places in the Heart – 1984

Sally Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Edna Spalding, a single mother who must fight and struggle to keep her home and her family after the death of her husband during the Great Depression.  And let me tell you, she really deserved it.  And to respond to her acceptance speech, I’ll say: Yes, Sally.  I liked you.  I really liked you!

The movie was a great example of memorable filmmaking.  I’ll be honest and confess that I didn’t have high hopes for this movie.  The title itself brought up the words ‘chick flick’ in my mind.  I went into it knowing nothing except for the names of its main cast.  Aside from Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich, and Ed Harris all turned in some wonderful performances, as did Amy Madigan, a name with which I am not familiar.

Edna’s husband, Royce, played by Ray Baker, is killed by a young black boy who accidentally shoots him, for which he is lynched and murdered.  After the funeral, I grieved for the widow as she asks, “What am I going to do now?”  She has no job skills, no money, two children to care for, and no help.  But she is kind and generous.  A black drifter named Moses, played by Glover arrives asking for work.  He suggests that if Edna would give him food and a place to stay, he will turn her 30 acre plot of land into a cotton farm.  She agrees and the two become friends.  Malkovich plays Mr. Will, a blind man who comes to rent a room in Edna’s house.  He is self-sufficient, able to earn a living making chairs and brooms.  As a blind man, he has the advantage of not being able to see color in a time when racism was the norm.  But he also had the disadvantage of not being able to see the simple beauty of a woman’s face.

The three of them, along with Edna’s two children, become a functional household.  Edna helps Moses to farm the cotton, and Mr. Will becomes fond of the children.  But he is the only one who cannot share the difficult task of picking the cotton.  It is torturous labor, but Edna knows it is the only way to save her family, as the bank demands money she does not have.  If she cannot pay, the house will be repossessed and her children might have to be sent to live with other relatives.

There are a few subplots, the most interesting of which involves Wayne Lomax, Edna’s brother-in-law, played by Harris, and his wife, Margaret, played by Lindsay Crouse.  Wayne is having an affair with the local school teacher, Viola, played by Madigan.  The two played their parts well and had a good chemistry together, both when the affair was strong, and after Viola decided to end it.

And the film’s climax was great, too.  Edna nearly kills herself harvesting her cotton, but has to be coached by Moses to get a fair price when selling it.  The buyer is not simply racist, he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Because of his involvement in the sale, they attack Moses in the middle of the night, intending to kill him.  But Moses is saved by blind Mr. Will, wielding a gun.  He fails to kill any of the attackers but they run when he reveals that he knows their identities by the sound of their voices.  Unfortunately, fearing further attacks, Moses quickly decides to leave, giving Edna a teary goodbye.

All of that might indicate that the film was all about Edna’s fight to pay the mortgage on the house and keep her family together.  But interestingly enough, the film’s cryptic final scene put more emphasis on the anti-racism theme.  After all the hardships are over, Edna and her family are seen in church.  As communion is being handed out we see Edna, her kids, and Mr. Will sitting in the pew.  But then, as the camera pans back, we see Royce sitting next to her exchanging a look of good will and forgiveness with the young black boy who had killed him.  It left me with the message of racial tolerance stronger in my mind than the inspiration of Edna’s triumph of the human spirit.

Either way, the story was compelling and easy to follow.  The cinematography was wonderfully executed, especially during the tornado scene.  And the costumes were perfectly appropriate, drab and colorless, for the Depression Era.  The movie was very well acted by the entire cast, but it was Field who really outshone them all.  Her raw emotions were so well played and she really drew me into the story, making me care about what happened.  Well done Sally!

1984 – The Killing Fields

1984 - Killing Fields. The - 01 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 02 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 03 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 04 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 05 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 06 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 07 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 08 1984 - Killing Fields. The - 09











The Killing Fields – 1984

This was a good movie that dealt with a very difficult historical event.  We all know about the war in Vietnam, but what I didn’t know, and what many young people today don’t know, was that the war spilled over into its neighboring country, Cambodia.  But I didn’t know anything about the premise of the Cambodian Civil War before watching the film.  Obviously, there was incredible political unrest, but even after watching the movie, I wasn’t really sure why.  Who were the different factions involved?  Why were so many people killed?  Who was doing the killing?

For answers, I had to go to Wikipedia, which I will paraphrase, to set up the plot of the film.  It all had to do with a group called the Khmer Rouge.  “The Khmer Rouge were the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia.  It was an offshoot of the Vietnam People’s Army, allied with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War against the anti-communist forces.  They are mostly remembered for orchestrating the Cambodian genocide, which resulted from the enforcement of its social engineering policies.  Its attempts at agricultural reform led to widespread famine, while its insistence on absolute self-sufficiency, even in the supply of medicine, led to the death of thousands from treatable diseases such as malaria.  Arbitrary executions and torture carried out by its cadres against perceived subversive elements are considered to have constituted genocide.”

You really need to know those things before watching this movie.  The overall message of the movie was overwhelming, and a little heavy-handed.  War is bad, but this one was especially bad.  The filmmakers took several opportunities to show us bloody, injured children.  They took us down to the depths of human cruelty and senseless violence.  They even ended the movie playing John Lennon’s song Imagine, one of the most famous anti-war songs ever recorded.

The movie followed Sam Waterston playing the part of Sydney Schanberg, a journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia, a place and a people he had come to love.  His close friend, Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran, played by Dr. Haing S. Ngor, acted as his guide and interpreter.  The two men were passionate about their work, believing that they were making a difference in that part of the world.  They face incredible hardships and go through situations where they could very easily been killed or murdered, giving them a tight bond through shared difficulties.

They work with photographers Al Rockoff, played by John Malkovich, and Jon Swain, played by Julian Sands.  After one dangerous situation after another in which execution by the Khmer Rouge is a very real possibility, the four end up in the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Capital.  Dith is taken captive by the Khmer Rouge.  He must feign ignorance and pretend to be an uneducated farmer to avoid execution.  He is sent, along with millions of his countrymen, to a forced labor camp, while Shanberg and his American compatriots return to the United States.  The last third of the film is about Dith’s torture and degradation in the camp, and his eventual escape to Thailand.

It was, at times, a difficult film to watch, but it was educational, and incredibly well-acted.  Dr. Ngor, who had never acted before in his life, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and I think he deserved it.  He was wonderful, and incredibly real and convincing.  He was later quoted as saying, “I wanted to show the world how deep starvation is in Cambodia, how many people die under Communist regime.  My heart is satisfied.  I have done something perfect.”

I also have to make mention of the film’s beautiful cinematography, for which it won an Oscar, and its incredibly appropriate soundtrack.  The music was chaotic and jarring, perfectly giving the action a dangerous feel.  It did a great job of heightening the tension in an already intense movie.

And just as a quick but important note, I want to explain where the film gets its name from.  The Killing Fields are sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime during its rule of the country.  At one point during his escape, Dith has to walk over the corpses of the victims in a mass grave.  It is a horrifying scene that really drove home the film’s message without holding anything back.  War is bad, but this one was especially bad.

1983 – Tender Mercies

1983 - Tender Mercies - 01 1983 - Tender Mercies - 02 1983 - Tender Mercies - 03 1983 - Tender Mercies - 04 1983 - Tender Mercies - 05 1983 - Tender Mercies - 06 1983 - Tender Mercies - 07 1983 - Tender Mercies - 08 1983 - Tender Mercies - 09











Tender Mercies – 1983

This was a light movie.  There was nothing heavy or terribly deep about it.  The drama was always present, but not very intense.  The performances were good, but not overly engaging.  But all that being said, it was a well-made film.  There was a subtlety about it that never disappeared and which kept the pace going.  The movie’s energy was low but unwavering.  It was slow, but consistent.

The movie was about a washed up country-western singer named Mac Sledge, played by Robert Duvall.  He starts out as an extreme alcoholic who is passed out on the floor of a cheap motel room floor.  He wakes to find himself alone and completely broke.  The owner of the motel is Rosa Lee, played by Tess Harper.  She and her son, Sonny, played by Allan Hubbard, live alone as the woman’s husband had been killed in Vietnam.  Mac offers to work as a handyman to pay for his room and board.

He stays long enough for a relationship to form between him and the widow.  Eventually he marries her, and this all takes place in the first 15 minutes or so of the movie.  The rest of the film is about how Mac struggles to put his life back together, despite the difficulties of his past.  I think my main problem with his character arch is that his transformation from drunk and on the floor to good husband and father happened too quickly.  After he marries Rosa Lee, he becomes a bit of a saint and he stays that way until the end of the film, despite little hardships that happen to him.

For example, at one point he tries writing country music again and when he takes some music to his ex-wife, Dixie Scott, a popular country-western singer played by Betty Buckley, she rejects his work.  He becomes angry and depressed.  He almost starts drinking again but doesn’t.  But just think of the deeper dramatic potential that was just missed because he didn’t hit the bottle again.  I think that a more dramatic story arch might have been Mac as he started drinking again, maybe even beating Rosa Lee.  But because of his love for Rosa Lee, he could fight to get sober, reconcile with her, and still revive his career.

But none of that happened.  He never drinks again.  He quickly gets over having his song rejected.  He converts to Christianity and gets baptized.  He joins a band and starts singing again, encounters a tragedy which I’ll comment on in a bit, and ends up being a great guy without any obvious flaws.  I mean, it was nice to see him be a good husband and father, but honestly, it was a little boring because there was never any indication that he might be anything else.  There was no dramatic tension.

There were only two mildly tense moments in the movie.  The first was when Mac’s song was rejected.  He is shown buying a bottle of alcohol, and then the scene cuts to Rosa Lee and Sonny as they wait for him to come home.  But when he eventually does, he confesses to pouring out the contents of the bottle without drinking them.  It was nice, but not very dramatic.

The other dramatically strong point in the movie was near the end.  Mac’s estranged daughter, Sue Anne, played by a young and gorgeous Ellen Barkin, has gone against her mother’s wishes and made contact with Mac.  He is nice to her without asking anything of her.  When Sue Anne elopes with a member of Dixie’s band and is subsequently killed in a car accident because of her husband’s drunk driving, Mac questions his new Christian faith.  He confesses that he had once been in a car accident and asks why Sue Anne had died and not him.

Duvall won the Oscar for Best Actor for the roll and some say that it was one of the best performances of his career.  Maybe that praise is deserved, especially in light of the fact that he not only did all his own singing, but he also wrote all his own songs.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of twangy country-western music, I have to give him credit for that.  Aside from that, Harper’s acting was adequate, but nothing to write home about.  Buckly had a nice little dramatic scene in which she has a breakdown following her daughter’s death.  And Wilford Brimley, playing Harry, Dixie’s manager, was good in a simple and steady kind of way.  I just wish the movie, overall, had more intensity to it.

1983 – The Right Stuff

1983 - Right Stuff, The - 01 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 02 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 03 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 04 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 05 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 06 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 07 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 08 1983 - Right Stuff, The - 09











The Right Stuff – 1983

Finally, Hollywood has decided to make another epic.  In recent years, I have noticed a trend in which smaller, self-contained films are being made.  Just look at the movies that have been nominated in the 80s:Tootsie, The Dresser, The Big Chill.  Even E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark can’t be considered epics.  But the Right Stuff does it, and does it right.

The movie is about the men who were the beginning of the American Space Program.  The film starts out as Chuck Yeager, played by Sam Shepard, is risking his life to break the sound barrier in experimental aircraft.  His wife, played by Barbara Hershey had no choice but to sit home and try not to worry.  Today, flying faster than the speed of sound is a casual occurrence that happens every day, but back in 1947, there were men who said that it couldn’t be done.

It was a time in history when America was competing with Russia to see who could win the Space Race.  And as we all know, America didn’t always win.  But our failure to keep up with the Russian rocket scientists inspired us to push ourselves, as a nation, to reach higher and higher.  We reached for the stars, and only the best of the best pilots were chosen to be the men who would touch them.

Yeager’s contribution was incredibly important.  He was a man of bravery and determination.  But the men who came after him were just as courageous and ready to risk their lives to achieve what had never before been done.  And that is what The Right Stuff was.  It was a dramatized telling of the powerful story of America’s first astronauts, their years of rigorous training, their personal sacrifices, their unwavering commitments to the space program, their successes, and their failures.  But the movie also spent some time telling the untold tales of the women who supported them, their wives, showing a little of what they endured as their husbands risked their lives to achieve their dangerous goals.  I liked that the women were not ignored.

The cast was fantastic.  Ed Harris played John Glen, Fred Ward played Gus Grissom, Denis Quaid played Gordon Cooper, Scott Glenn played Alan Shepard, Lance Henriksen played Walter Schirra, Charles Frank played Scott Carpenter, and Scott Paulin played Donald Slayton.  These seven men were the first astronauts chosen by NASA, handpicked from the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines.  They were all important, but the film really concentrated on Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, and Cooper because they were the first four American Men to go into outer space.  Their wives, Mrs. Sheperd, played by Kathy Baker, Mrs. Grissom, played by Veronica Cartwright, Mrs. Glenn, played by Mary Jo Deschanel, and Mrs. Cooper, played by Pamela Reed, all had smaller parts that were no less important to the film.  Again, the casting was spot on.

I like that the film was just as honest about the failures as well as the successes of the American Space program.  I did a little bit of research about the overall accuracy of the movie and discovered that, for the most part, the accuracy was there.  The little things they changed were pretty insignificant.  For example, in the film, there is a scene in which Grissom and Cooper talk about flying at Langley Air Force Base.  In reality, neither of them had ever flown there.  But the detail was minor, and it helped to establish a special bond of friendship between the characters.  I’m OK with that because it made for better drama.

And here are two little points of interest to anyone watching the movie.  First, Gus Grissom was blamed panicking and manually blowing the hatch of his capsule after splashdown.  He claimed that he had not made the error and was called a liar.  Before the film was completed, it was proven that he had told the truth.  It had blown off on its own because of mechanical failure.  But the movie left his honesty in question because in real life, nobody had believed him at the time.

And second, in real life, the mystery of John Glenn’s “fireflies” was solved in 1962 by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7.  The flying particles of light were tiny pieces of frost from the side of the spacecraft.  Condensation had gathered on the vessel as it had passed through the cold orbital darkness.  When the craft came into the sunlight again, the flakes of frost came off and floated around the capsule, illuminated by the sun to look like glowing particles.

1983 – The Dresser

1983 - Dresser, The - 01 1983 - Dresser, The - 02 1983 - Dresser, The - 03 1983 - Dresser, The - 04 1983 - Dresser, The - 05 1983 - Dresser, The - 06 1983 - Dresser, The - 07 1983 - Dresser, The - 08 1983 - Dresser, The - 09











The Dresser – 1983

The Dresser was a confusing, stuffy, British drama.  The film’s main protagonist is Norman, played by Tom Courtenay.  He is a dresser, or possibly a volunteer manservant to a great and pompous thespian, referred to only as Sir, and played by Albert Finney.  He has been doing Shakespeare for so long that he has every role memorized.  He is highly respected for his work.  Those who work with him, and those who go to the theatre to watch him seem to worship the ground on which he walks.

Norman, on the other hand, prefers to stay in the background, but derives immense pleasure in being the man who takes care of him.  Norman has a great sense of self-importance, making sure that Sir is always ready to perform, making sure that he has on the right costume and the right makeup.

The film’s conflict is that Sir is very old and losing his mind.  He is prone to fits of mad shouting and raving.  He drinks and has a bad heart.  But the theatre company puts up with his cantankerous behavior because of his unparalleled skill as a Shakespearean actor.  He berates other actors during performances, telling them how to deliver their lines.  He belittles them and puts them down after the curtain has fallen, complaining about their performances or their makeup.

The plot of The Dresser centers on Sir’s performance of the Bard’s King Lear.  Sir has a mental breakdown the morning before the performance and can barely remember the lines he is supposed to deliver on the stage.  But remember, the movie’s protagonist isn’t Sir, but Norman.  The drama of the film is Norman’s struggle to get Sir dressed, made-up, and mentally able to play King Lear.

That’s all very well and good.  But the film came off to me, much as did the character of Norman, himself: pretentious, self-important, and stuffy.  It heavily implied that Shakespearean theatre is inherently better than any other kind of theatre, and that King Lear is the Best of Shakespeare’s plays.  It also implies that only the most skilled actors should ever attempt to play the role because none but the best actors in the world would ever be able to do the part justice.  In that same light, Norman’s theatre company was the best company in existence, Sir was the best actor in the company, making him the best actor in existence, and Norman was the only dresser in the world who could take care of him properly.  He was the only man who knew just how to pamper and coddle him to get him to go on the stage and give another flawless performance.

The Dresser was based on a play of the same name, written by Ronald Harwood.  The complex relationship between Norman and Sir gave the plot its drama, and while it certainly did that, I felt that the film was just too stuffy and boorish to catch my interest.  Sure, Finney played the part as it was supposed to be played, and he played it well, but there was just too much shouting and too many over-exaggerated emotions that beat me over the head, saying “This is a serious drama!  You will now stand in awe of how serious and dramatic we are being!”

My favorite parts were the quieter moments, like the one in which Sir has a private conversation with the stage manager, Madge, played by Eileen Atkins.  She admitted to living an unhappy life, pining after Sir for many long years, staying on as the company’s stage manager only to be near him.  Sir admits to knowing of her affections, sorry that he was never able to respond in kind.

But the ending tore those quiet moments to pieces.  Norman, who, in taking care of Sir’s failing mental state in order to get him to perform King Lear, has been driven to drink.  After the most stunning performance of Sir’s career, he retires to his private dressing room and dies.  The heavily inebriated Norman learns that Sir has had very little appreciation for him.  Norman has a loud and bombastic emotional breakdown of his own, sobbing and pathetically crying, “What am I going to do now?”  The one thing that made him feel important was now gone.  A powerful ending? Yes, but overdone and without an ounce of subtlety.  I was just glad all the screaming and shouting was done.

1983 – The Big Chill

1983 - Big Chill, The - 01 1983 - Big Chill, The - 02 1983 - Big Chill, The - 03 1983 - Big Chill, The - 04 1983 - Big Chill, The - 05 1983 - Big Chill, The - 06 1983 - Big Chill, The - 07 1983 - Big Chill, The - 08 1983 - Big Chill, The - 09











The Big Chill – 1983

This was an OK movie, though I have to agree with film critic Roger Ebert who said. “The Big Chill is a splendid technical exercise.  It has all the right moves.  It knows all the right words.  Its characters have all the right clothes, expressions, fears, lusts, and ambitions.  But there’s no payoff and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”  And he was right.  There was no story arc that led to any catharsis or climax.  So really, what was the point?

The film was a portrait of a very specific nature.  It showed a group of people who were once friends in college in the 60s.  After that magical and special time in their lives, they each went their separate ways and followed their own paths.  But when one of them commits suicide, the rest are gathered together for his funeral.  They decide to stay together in the same house for a weekend to commiserate with each other over his death.  Old wounds, old friendships, and old loves are revived and revisited.

The film had an ensemble cast with some names that are pretty easily recognizable, even today.  Kevin Klein and Glen Close play Harold and Sarah Cooper, the hosts of the gathering that seem to serve as the mom and dad of the family of friends.  Jeff Goldblum played Michael, the annoyingly lecherous nerd.  Tom Berenger was Sam, the famous Hollywood actor.  William Hurt played the part of Nick, the black sheep who was a drug user and dealer.  Jo Beth Williams played Karen, a woman who says she is emotionally done with her marriage to a man she does not love, but proves that she has no intentions of leaving him.  Mary Kay Place played Meg, a single woman who wants one of her friends to get her pregnant so she can have a baby.  And finally, there is Chloe, played by Meg Tilly.  She was not part of the core group, but was the deceased Alex’s young girlfriend who offers a different perspective on the situation.  It is interesting to note that Kevin Costner was actually cast as Alex, but all his screen time was cut and his face was never shown.

And that’s the main cast.  Over the course of the film, all the characters, each with their own distinct personalities and agendas, interact with each other.  They all share the bonds of friendship, some of which are stronger and some weaker than others.  But here is where the film’s biggest flaw comes out.  We see them talk.  We see them argue.  We see them make love.  We see them hug.  But we don’t see them change.  We don’t see them grow or progress as characters.

So then we have to ask, what did we get out of all the talking?  What was the message of the film?  I think we are told that youth is a magical time during which, if we are lucky, strong bonds of friendship can be formed.  As we mature and the reality of adulthood settles in, those bonds can be tested, and if they are strong enough, they can offer us support in difficult times.  So treasure your friends because you never know when you may need them.  Also, youth equals carefree innocence and adult equals uncertainty and struggle.

I would like to mention a few interesting subplots, but have to acknowledge that, for the most part, that’s all the movie really was: a collection of subplots.  The solution to Meg’s difficulty, her desire to get pregnant, is solved when Sarah, who loves and trusts her husband Harold very much, asks him to give her what she wants.  Harold and Meg make love, making Sarah extremely happy that she was able to help her friend in such a way.  Karen, who had always carried a torch for Sam, says that she is going to leave her husband so that she can seduce him into an affair.  After he finally gives in and they have sex in the front yard, she can’t wait to get back to her husband and her kids.  And finally, Nick and Chloe, who seem to have developed a close friendship decide to stay together and live in a shack on Harold and Sarah’s property.  It is implied that they have become lovers, of sorts, despite the fact that Nick, who had been injured in Vietnam, can no longer get an erection.  It is also mildly implied that Nick is trying to turn over a new leaf and kick his drug addictions.

And as a closing thought, the movie, as I read about it, is constantly being referred to as a comedy.  But though some of the things the characters did or said were mildly amusing, I can only think of the film as a drama.  A few jokes amid tears and hugs does not a comedy make.

1982 – The Verdict

1982 - Verdict, The - 01 1982 - Verdict, The - 02 1982 - Verdict, The - 03 1982 - Verdict, The - 04 1982 - Verdict, The - 05 1982 - Verdict, The - 06 1982 - Verdict, The - 07 1982 - Verdict, The - 08 1982 - Verdict, The - 09











The Verdict – 1982

This was a pretty cut and dry courtroom drama that had some good acting that seemed to be undercut with a fairly uninteresting script.  The cast had some pretty big names like Paul Newman, James Mason, and Jack Warden.  Unfortunately, the plot would have done well for a made for TV movie.  The characters and the plot were ridiculously predictable.  I’d had the ending figured out about 15 minutes into the movie, and my prediction was remarkably accurate.

Newman played Frank Galvin, a lawyer who is a severe alcoholic.  He is down on his luck, and appears ready to drink himself to death.  But his friend, Mickey Morrissey, played by Warden, throws him a bone.  An easy medical malpractice case that appears to be a sure win with a lot of money behind it.  Now, what do you think happened?

I thought he would take the case and become passionate about it because he was on the side of justice.  He was fighting against the Catholic Church because a pair of doctors at a Catholic hospital caused permanent brain damage to a patient through gross negligence.  The Church would hire a team of overconfident lawyers who would seem to present an airtight defense case.

One thing after another would go wrong for Frank.  It would look like he would lose, and Frank would become depressed and drink some more.  But in the end, a surprise witness would come forward, have an emotional and teary breakdown in the witness box, reveal a big secret about how the two doctors were as guilty as hell, and Frank would win the case.  The end.

That’s what I thought would happen, and I was right on nearly every point.  There were a few little subplots that didn’t really do much to affect the main story, but at least they helped to keep my interest a little.  One of these came in the form of Laura Fischer, played by Charlotte Rampling.  At first she seemed to be a random woman Frank runs into at his favorite bar with whom he starts an affair.  But twist!  She was a plant, a woman on the payroll of the head defense lawyer, Ed Concannon, played by Mason.  Apparently it was she who was responsible for most of the difficulties in Frank’s case.

The only thing I wasn’t sure of by the end of the movie was whether or not Frank and Laura would end up together in the end.  I was pleasantly surprised that they did not because with such a cookie-cutter script, I was afraid that they would.  After Frank learns that she has been passing all his information and strategy to Concannon, he slaps her in the face, bloodying her lip, in public no less, he could have very easily taken her back after the trial, taking the attitude that all is fair in love and war.  But I liked that he instead said, “You screwed me and I’m done with you.”

Like I said, there was some good acting.  You can rarely go wrong with Paul Newman, who played drunk remarkably well, and Mason who has always had a commanding screen presence.  But the supporting characters also deserve to be mentioned.  For example, Milo O’Shea, who played Judge Hoyle, Edward Binns as Bishop Brophy, James Handy and Roxanne Heart as the brother-in-law and sister of the brain damaged woman, Kevin and Sally Doneghy, and Lindsay Crouse, who played the case-winning surprise witness.  They all played their parts as well as could be expected.

But what was it about The Verdict that was so good?  Why was it nominated for Best Picture?  Why did the Writers Guild of America rank the script #91 on its list of 101 greatest screenplays ever written in 2013?  Why, in a poll by Empire Records, was it voted the 254th greatest movie of all time?  Why does everyone love this movie?  What am I missing?  I’ll tell you, I don’t know.

Maybe it was the complexity of Newman’s character.  Maybe it was the technical structure of the film, a subject on which I don’t claim to be especially educated.  Or maybe it was the triumph of the underdog over the system inherent in the plot.  Whatever it was, it didn’t really make that great an impact on me.  It isn’t a bad movie.  It just isn’t as good as it thinks it is.