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Citizen Kane and The Verdict Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jul 4th, 2019


Creating a compelling and interesting character is a complicated task. Perhaps, one of the greatest challenges regarding the process of character development is to allow the audience relating to the character. While it is very easy to create a perfectly flawless and bland character with a personality of a hairspray can, which every single viewer can easily associate him- or herself with, a truly engaging character can enthrall the audience into paying attention.

Creating such a character is possible only when there is a solid back story to the latter, and when the needs and wants of this character are explained either in a straightforward narration or through a series of scenes in which this character takes part.

Such strong character development can be observed in such movies as Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, him playing the lead, and The Verdict with Paul Newman playing the leading part of Frank Galvin, even though the needs and wants of the two characters are diametrically opposite, Kane living in the memories of his past, and Galvin being deeply rooted in the present.

Thesis statement

Despite the fact that the characters of Kane and Galvin share a number of similarities in their character, the way in which they are portrayed in the movie, and even the way in which their lives change, as the story reveals more details about the specifics of the characters’ life, the choices that they make and the regrets that they have, it becomes obvious that Kane and Galvin are diametrically opposite in terms of what they want, seeing how the former clearly wishes that he could return to his past, where he had little to no concerns, whereas Galvin prefers to handle the challenges of life and even finds a certain pleasure in acquiring necessary, though often painful, experience.


One of the greatest achievements of both movies concerns the way in which the characters are portrayed. Neither Lumet, nor Wells were willing to make their main heroes flawless knights without a fear or blemish; instead, both Kane and Galvin are shown as real people, who make wrong choices and have their weaknesses.

It is remarkable that Kane is shown as a very respectable person from the very start, and an extraordinarily strong-willed one at that. Judging by the choices that he makes, his only needs are to establish himself in the society as a man of great power and influence; even though the given impression is rather deceptive, Kane is so passionate about his image of a man of power that he lures himself into thinking that he craves for power and nothing else.

Galvin, in his turn, might seem considerably less compelling than Kane. On a surface, he could be seen as another lone fighter for justice, the character that has been exploited by the detective genre since the dawn of time. Indeed, at first, it might seem that he does not have that much character after all, outside his fixation on the need to restore justice. The very first few scenes with Galvin show clearly that Lumet wants this character to be more compelling than the traditional detective story cliché.

For example, unlike Kane, Galvin is portrayed in a downright unpleasant way from the very start – the second scene opens with a shot of Frank suffering a hangover and his friend Mickey reproaching him: “You’re supposed to be in court. I bet you haven’t even seen the file” (The Verdict).

The fact that Galvin chose his life to be a wreck sets him as far apart with Kane as possible; in fact, judging by the first few scenes from each movie, these characters are nothing alike. At first, it might seem that Galvin’s needs and wants are set pretty low and are dragged down to bare necessities.

Galvin’s character, however, becomes more compelling as he learns about the case of medical negligence and visits the victim, whom he is going to represent in the court. The script clearly suggests that Galvin’s conversation with the woman in the hospital should be a real eye-opened for the leading character and the powerful booster of the change that is going to happen to Galvin – she is young, obviously attractive, innocent as a child and in desperate need for help.

To make the matter worse, she is in a coma; in other words, every single detail of her case points at the inevitable revelation that Galvin is going to have and the following process of mending his ways.

However, much to the director’s and actor’s credit, the scene in the hospital is handled pretty well – there are no over-the-top scenes where Galvin swears to find and punish the criminal, or any other obnoxious cliché. Instead, the movie director and the actor handle the scene in a very mature way. Frank does not say any corny lines; instead, he just looks at the young woman, allowing the audience to watch him emotionally connect with the victim.

Another step in Galvin’s development as a character begins as his relationships with Laura fisher start. At the first glance, Galvin’s decision to terminate the relationships with Laura is already a huge step in defining his character as something more than another vigilante-like detective.

The movie director drops another bomb, however, as Galvin’s character deliberately ignores Laura’s attempts to reconcile with him and, perhaps, to get her redemption. This is not a charming manlike attitude that makes Frank even more attractive – quite on the contrary, this is a very controversial and heartless move at the very least.

The change of a similar scale happens to Wells’ character, though admittedly much faster than to Galvin in The Verdict. The image of a cool-blooded, no-nonsense businessman, who managed to not only survive in the jungle of the business world, but also become the best of the best, is shattered to pieces as soon as people learn about his last words. Indeed, the very idea of a business tycoon standing at the death’s door and whispering what is supposedly the name of his passion is melodramatic at the very least.

As the plot of Citizen Kane unwinds, however, the choices that Kane makes definitely make the audience see him as a very controversial character. It is clear that he sets his course for getting out of poverty and becoming successful; unbelievably ambitious, he is a wonderful contrast to Galvin, who is driven mostly by his urge to restore justice, and tends to evolve morally rather than improving his social status: “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man” (Citizen Kane).

Kane’s ambitions, however, often lead him along some of the most controversial trails; unlike Galvin, who is portrayed as a nonchalant rules breaker, Kane gets very close to a hypocrite and a manipulator, seeing how one of his earliest ventures concerns working in a local newspaper, whose tendency to publish a backwash of celebrities’ scandalous lifestyle makes it canary yellow.

While Galvin’s basic fault is that he is reluctant to think when making choices and that he drifts along going wherever life takes him, Kane makes his choices consciously, therefore, stepping even lower than Galvin does. These choices, however, do not make the characters less likeable; both directors knew where to stop so that their characters should not cross the line between being charmingly flawed and downright despicable.

Character perception

The difference between the two characters is obvious from the very start. On the one hand, there is respectable businessman known as Charles Foster Kane, and on the other, there is a drunken, despicable, good for nothing Frank Galvin. At the first glance, the two characters could not be any further apart in terms of morality, social status and interests. As the story unwinds, however, the audience sees that both of the characters are quite relatable.

At the given point, the difference between the two characters becomes even more obvious. While Galvin’s character turns more attractive to general audience as the movie plot unwinds, the story of Kane’s life and his admittedly impressive accomplishments are down-toned by the idea of such a strong man giving in to his almost childish passion for who is considered to be an unknown girl nicknamed Rosebud.

The scene mentioned earlier, in which Galvin shows his sympathy towards the victim of medical negligence, plays a pivoting role in the audience’s perception of the character.

While at the beginning of the movie, Galvin is portrayed as your typical good-for-nothing bum, who ruins his life simply because he does not know any better, the scene at the hospital shows clearly that he, in fact, is much more complicated a character and that, deep inside, he is as sentimental and sympathetic as anyone else.

The given scene, therefore, creates the premises for further redemption and the discovery of a new Galvin, who is kinder and more vulnerable than the Galvin that the audience saw at the beginning of the movie.

The given transformation begs the question why Galvin’s being more sentimental than the audience expects him to be is charming, while Kane’s weakness seems to make the audience sympathize with the character instead of admiring him. The answer to this question lies in details of the characters’ lives.

While they both seem to be portrayed in a negative way, Newman’s character is interpreted as despicably low; he’s a drunkard with no clue, and he cannot possibly stoop any lower. Therefore, there is enough room for building a character arch that will finally result in making a point about even the lowest of the low being able to make a change of heart. Kane, on the other hand, is perceived as a successful businessman, which means that the character already has a lot of dignity and weight to him.

Therefore, the fact that, being at the death’s door, he gives vent to his sentiments feels like a major letdown. Perhaps, the greatest obstacle in perceiving Wells’ character as a fleshed-out part of reality, the voiceover of the narrator does not allow for relating to him in a way that the audience can relate to Newman’s Frank Galvin. Weirdly enough, the narrator’s voice sets a comfortable distance between the audience and the character, as if the viewers were sneaking a peek at someone else’s life instead of walking in the shoes of the leading character.

Whereas the character of Kane becomes increasingly mysterious and, therefore, appealing as the story unwinds, even though most of his choices are very questionable, Galvin definitely loses the audience’s affection as his affair with the charming spy resolves in him being fooled. The given change in mood is very peculiar, seeing how the directions in which the two are going obviously conflict with the viewers’ choices.

Kane prefers career to happiness and life’s simple joys, whereas Galvin prefers the fight for justice to succumbing to what the circumstances demand. That being said, it still clear that both characters are quite relatable, since they are not portrayed as flawless crusaders for justice; on the contrary, they make mistakes, they make wrong choices, they take morally questionable steps at certain points of their lives, they can be upset, mad and even jealous, which makes them all the more humane.


It must be admitted that each of the characters leaves a rather mixed impression, mostly because neither of the directors feared to portray their leads in a negative light. Though depicted in a very different way, the characters definitely share common features, the key one being the weird mixture of negative qualities and the ability to use these qualities in order to attract people and appeal to them, allowing for the audience to relate to these characters and sympathize with them.

It is worth mentioning that the way in which the characters reveal their qualities are very different; in fact, in the story of Foster Kane is downright contrary to the story of Galvin, seeing how the audience learns about his strengths firsthand, while his weaknesses come out in full blue as the story unwinds.

Likewise, when it comes to defining the wants and needs of the two characters, one will most likely find out that Kane was rooted deeply in his past, and his only wish was to return the happy days of his youth, when he could not care less about the choices that he had to take, as well as what people would think of him. In Kane’s case, it was the environment that needed to be changed for the lading character to be completely happy.

Unlike Kane, Galvin is grounded in the present, with a clear-cut here-and-now attitude and the necessity to grab the bull by the horns and do something. More to the point, Galvin clearly needs to prove his worthiness, either to the world or to himself; he is motivated by the principle of doing the right thing, and needs to see the triumph of justice.

Therefore, the two characters are very close to each other in terms of their choice of methods that they resort to in order to achieve their goals, yet are very different in terms of what they need. Galvin needs to move forward and looks to changes in his life, no matter where they bring him; Kane, on the opposite, wants to return to the happiest days of his life when he had little responsibilities and even less choices, and had not a care in the world.

Works Cited

The Verdict. Ex. Prod. Sidney Lumet. Century City, LA: 20th Century Fox. 1982. DVD.

Citizen Kane. Ex. Prod. Orson Wells. New York, NY: RKO Radio Pictures. 1941. DVD.

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