Review – THE VERDICT (“Het vonnis,” Jan Verheyen, 2013, Belgium)

HET VONNIS || 2013, Belgium || Drama || Directed by – Jan Verheyen / Screenplay by – Jan Verheyen / Produced by – Peter Bouckaert, An Rydant / Music by – Steve Willaert / Cinematography by – Frank van der Eeden / Editing by – Philippe Ravoet / Production design – Johan Van Eesche / Starring – Koen De Bouw, Johan Leysen, Veerle Baetens / Running time: 111 mins.

MCDHEVO EC001The Verdict is a Belgian thriller drama that puts on trial, quite literally, the flaws of the country’s judicial system.

Luc Segers (Koen De Bouw), the story’s protagonist, is a man whose idyllic life as a family man and accomplished career guy on the rise – he is being groomed to be the CEO of the company he has worked for since college – comes to an end after a sudden, violent attack leaves him in a coma and his wife and little daughter killed. What’s worse is that soon after he wakes up from his coma, he also realizes that there will be no justice done; the undoubtedly guilty man is allowed to walk off scot free due to a procedural error.

Unwilling to let the affair go, he obsessively decides to take matters into his own hands. He pursues the killer and, after murdering him, turns himself in. His murder has the double motive of satifying his thirst for revenge but also, more importantly, of publicly taking on the judicial system that let him down by refusing to be tried on any lesser charge than that of manslaughter.

The provocation of The Verdict goes beyond the usual courtroom drama format. Director and screenwriter Jan Verheyen is equally as interested in exposing the fear of a morally deranged system resting on the flawed structure of bureaucracy as he is in telling the story of a man’s moral breakdown. The latter also explains why this film is not a whodunnit; neither is it necessarily the usual revenge film in which a man pursues another man responsible for a tragic act upon which the film resolves. In fact, even the tragic deed itself, which happens at the start of the movie, takes a backseat as the ideological implications of the story come to the fore.

This is why Luc Segers (the protagonist) is a successful man at the start of the movie; he seems quite literally have it all. More than that, the family in his happy, expensive home is just as warm as the surrogate family of the company in which he works. It is practically impossible to draw the line between his home life and his work life: he is in his element in both environments.

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It is only an unexpected tragedy that can change this path, a fleeting moment in which he automatically goes from being a hero to a zero, i.e. the victim. Finding himself in this situation, he is immediately exposed to the flaws of the system. His transformation, more than on a familial level, is more strikingly convincing when related to his work: he is zombified, the representation of the Marxist theory of the alienation of the worker. In taking matters into his own hands, he becomes a downright enemy of the system, but instead of running away, he confronts it as the bearer of some kind of truth. His death, not even his incarceration, will turn him into a matryr. Better yet, this is a film in which the protagonist’s redemption can only be achieved via martyrdom, thus going from capitalist, to alienated worker to, finally, a revolutionary.

While the first part of The Verdict progresses at a thrilling and captivating pace, atmopsherically supported by some excellently choreagraphed widescreen photography, the second part is focused on the controversial trial.

Critics have called this second part wordy: perhaps it is because the courtroom drama of this piece is unlike most other traditional representations of a countroom drama as a dramatic elements, due to the fact that not only do we know who the murderer is, but we also know that he wants to be charged with manslaughter.

Where the flaw really lies is that the character’s 180 turnaround on the system is too decisive, too perfect; it is all too evident in the second part. Never is he credibly tempted to turn back and embrace the system that once hailed him as a hero. There is no credible devilish appearance tempting him snap out of his hostile pursuit. This is where the energy of the film becomes emotionally lackluster. – 4/5

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