The Verdict- Director’s commentary

The Verdict film is a classic. But what’s equally brilliant is the director’s commentary that comes with the Blu-Ray. Sidney Lumet gives some terrific insights and interesting tidbits. Here are a few.

  1. Information about side actors, like one patient in the hospital scene who is infact a holocaust survivor.
  2. Paul Newman’s contribution to character building like using eye-drops etc.
  3. His overall theme of no bright colors and the larger than life locations to create the feeling that Paul Newman character is up against something very big and somber. More like he is way out of his league.
  4. How David Mamet turns a cliched scene over its head. Example when Paul Newman realizes who the head nurse was protecting, but hands over the paper to his colleague, who then does the reveal.
  5. How David Mamet builds the tension for the main character and keeps the audience glued to his struggle–just when he gets a hooray, he is pushed down by a few blocks and his mired in self doubt. Example, when he loses his star witness and makes the call to defence lawyer and when he meets his girlfriend in the hotel.
  6. His rehearsal method and how actors still give something on top of it during the actual take. Paul Newman realizing that after couple of weeks rehearsal, he still had some distance to reach during the shoot.
  7. The famous last scene was infact had to be shot again due to some issue with the film, and how Paul Newman delivered a superb encore.
  8. How Paul Newman very narrowly escaped an accident (near the window that was used as poster for the film, which was Paul Newman’s idea) when bright lights became incendiary with the damp wood of the windows dried up, but the gaffer or lighting person didn’t estimate the dried factor.
  9. About how actors internalize the character and bring things to fore, example when Paul Newman’s girlfriend struggles with her guilt and gets out to make the phone call.
  10. His economy in direction, saving close-ups for something important, and waiting to do it at the right moment. Example, the scene where Paul Newman meets admitting nurse in NY.
  11. Point of view shots as seem necessary and not from the star’s point of view. Example, when Paul Newman visits his star witness’s house and the reveal of the news from the butler.
  12. How David Mamet constructs the scene from ordinary to extra ordinary reveal and puts together scenes not just to move the plot forward but also show something new about the characters. Example, the scene in which Paul Newman’s girl friend meets the defence attorney, where the plot is given a jolt alright, but we also know the background and motivation of her.
  13. How some movies go beyond what was there on the script and how they take their life on their own and then it is all upto the instinct of the director, the film just rolls on.
  14. Paul Newman missed an Oscar as ‘Gandhi’ sweeped the Oscars that year.
  15. How David Mamet creates the see saw of possibilities, like whether the lead character would achieve his goal, but also sometimes throws in indicators that he might just pull it off. Example when his expert witness though disappointed with the outcome of his testimony, still breathes hope in Paul Newman and the audience, saying to the effect ‘how people react to truth might surprise us’.

Tailpiece: My father was not much in favor of elaborate rehearsals even for TV series. This, inspite of his stage experience is a surprising thing for me.

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