My Favorite Scene: John Cusack Picks a Classic Paul Newman Moment From The Verdict

Having had the chance to work with one of his heroes, Paul Newman (in 1989’s Fat Man and Little Boy), John Cusack turned to a Newman classic for a round of Movieline’s My Favorite Scene. “There’s a scene of Paul Newman in The Verdict that I would use as the best example of economy and what a close-up is supposed to mean,” Cusack explained during our chat for The Raven. “It’s the example where the film does what no other art form can do – a book can’t do it, and theater can’t do it, it’s only for film, and it’s the best example of it.” Pay attention, kids – Professor Cusack’s Film Language 101 is in session.

Really, a Cusack class in film history wouldn’t be so farfetched; In addition to acting, writing, producing, and Tweeting, Cusack’s also a keen student of cinema – so much so, he jokes, he could teach a class (“On other people’s films,” he adds). When put to the Movieline challenge, he didn’t hesitate to draw upon one of the best scenes in Sidney Lumet’s 1982 courtroom classic.

“It’s Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman and David Mamet at their finest,” he began. “Paul Newman plays this ambulance-chasing lawyer whose client has been turned into a vegetable, and the hospital is trying to settle out of court because they’re protecting the doctors from a malpractice suit. It’s a big ethical dilemma. He goes to take a picture of his client, this woman who he hasn’t seen, and she’s on a life support machine – she’s been turned into a vegetable.”

“You hear the breathing and breathing, and he takes the pictures," he continued, "and then, as they develop, he has a moment of conscience. He sits down and he looks at the pictures and he looks at her, and you can see his entire life – all the compromises he’s made, all the short-cuts, all the lies – come crashing down on him.”

“It’s still a wide shot, and from the back a nurse comes in and says, ‘Sir, you can’t be in here.’ And then you cut in close on Paul Newman and Paul Newman says three words: He says ‘I’m her attorney.’ And in those three words, what washes over his face tells the entire story, and it tells as much as a novel could ever tell.”

Watch the scene below at the 6:40 mark.

“If I was to teach what film can be, and what a close-up is supposed to be, and what great acting, directing, and writing is supposed to be, I would use that scene," Cusack said. "It all comes together and it’s probably the best close-up that I’ve ever seen. I think it’s Newman’s finest hour – one of his many masterful pieces of acting.”

Couldn't agree more. Flashback: The Verdict was indeed nominated for five Oscars, including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (James Mason), and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, but was eclipsed that year by a Gandhi near-sweep.

The Raven, meanwhile, hits theaters next Friday, April 27 -- stay tuned for Movieline's full interview with Cusack.

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