The Verdict (Het Vonnis): Filmart Review

Hong Kong Filmart
A tautly written, delicately acted piece in which words ring louder or more provocatively than the odd acts of violence.

Belgian filmmaker Jan Verheyen's courtroom drama challenges the viewer to reflect on the possible flaws of modern judicial systems.

Never mind the title: Jan Verheyen's courtroom drama doesn't actually let the viewer know of the jury's decision in the murder trial at the center of the film. Then again, The Verdict is not your typical mainstream visceral thriller about justice being done: This Belgian hit is all about questioning justice itself -- or, to be specific, demanding the viewer to contemplate how legal and political systems are letting citizens down by applying a misshapen and misapplied take on justice.

The Verdict is a talky piece -- and a riveting one. While unfolding mostly in legal chambers, conference rooms and of course the courtroom itself, the film boasts a taut screenplay (courtesy of Verheyen himself), and visuals and calibrated performances from its cast. As uttered in one of the key speeches at the film's denouement, everyone's a loser in the case, and Verheyen and his actors have certainly steered clear of going down the simplistic easy route of delivering martyrs and villains.

What Verheyen aims at is the moral ambivalence permeating what appears to be the strictly regulated social order of the day. The protagonist trying to ignite a bomb to blow all this apart is Luc Segers (Koen de Bouw), a high-flying engineer whose wife and daughter died in a botched robbery. His grief is compounded when the culprit, the auto mechanic Kenny de Kroot (Hendrik Aerts), is released because the adjudicating judge forgot to sign the documentation approving a proper investigation into the case.

Furious over what he sees is the state's failure in righting wrongs, Segers turns vigilante and takes care of de Kroot; taking up just the first 40 minutes of the film, the grief and revenge (which isn't even shown completely until recalled later) only serve as the prologue to the gripping courtroom proceedings.

As the attorney-general (Jappe Claes) and de Kroot's former lawyer (Veerle Baetens) engage in a battle of wits and fiery speeches with Segers' advocate (Johan Leysen), witnesses, procedures and finally the flaws of bureaucracy-driven state power are all torn to shreds.

Adding to all this is a reflective look at how the upholders of the law are to conduct their work (and themselves) when confronted by public choruses of disapproval. "Let them be angry," says the leading prosecutor. "The dogs bark and the caravan goes on. The caravan has no choice." It's a remark that could either be perceived as typical bureaucratic indifference, or the manifestation of a higher, apolitical level of understanding fairness in society. To Verheyen's credit, The Verdict makes use of such moral dilemmas to great effect, provoking thoughts rather than knee-jerk consolidations of right and wrong.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, Mar. 25

Production Company: Eyeworks Film & TV Drama

Director: Jan Verheyen

Producer: Peter Bouckaert

Cast: Koen de Bouw, Johan Leysen, Jappe Claes, Veerle Baetens

Screenplay: Jan Verheyen

Director of Photography: Frank van den Eeden

Production Designer: Johan van Essche

Editor: Philippe Ravoet

Music: Steve Willaert

International Sales: Media Luna Films

In Flemish

112 minutes

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