You can’t really tell whose vehicle this is – whether it is Sidney Lumet’s urban theatre about power struggle and the defense for what is right, or if it’s David Mamet’s, again, theatre where the world crowds and burdens our idealistic protagonist looking for redemption. It’s both. I’m more familiar with Lumet’s work. The other film I’ve seen of Mamet is “Redbelt.” I’ve read “Glengarry GlenRoss” the play and for some reason only have a vague recollection of it. Either way this seems like a slow marinade compared to their other work. It’s after fifty minutes later when Frank Galvin’s (Paul Newman) client’s brother-in-law confronts him which gets us at the edge of our seat.
It’s also unlike their work where in this movie, we get a lot of short scenes instead of a few big acts. The drama gets built up as we see both Galvin’s side and the archdiocese’s camp strategize, both teams stoic but they show a few breaks of sweat now and then. Speaking of stoic, Paul Newman’s looking the same but with gray hair. His performance is a bit quieter here than his showy roles fifteen years earlier. He doesn’t do any yelling even in his last speech. It’s this subtlety that would mark his better roles after this one.
I’ve joked in private that David Mamet couldn’t write women. This movie, however, gives us Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling), a strong female who’s also afraid of her tough persona. There’s Sally Doneghy, still feeling the pull and tug between her husband and vegetable sister. Finally, there’s Kailtin Costello Price, the nurse whose less than five-minute appearance makes us feel as if we’ve known her life story. This is one of the incidents where I couldn’t have been more glad to be wrong.
Lastly, this paragraph isn’t necessarily a spoiler as much as it is an advice to douchebag judges and lawyers. How did Frank and the Plaintiff win? Sandbag the little guy once, shame on you. Sandbag them twice and they jury will see what’s going on.