Saturday, April 26, 2014

"The Verdict": drama from Belgium about the integrity of the criminal justice system

The Belgian film “The Verdict” (“Het Vonnis”, by Jan Verheyen), indeed provides courtroom drama about vigilantism and taking the law into one’s own hands.

Luc Segers (Koen de Bouw), a rising business man in Brussels, with his wife and daughter, stop at a gas station at night.  The wife is murdered in a robbery gone bad, a scene particularly brutal, by Kenny de Groot (Hendrik Aerts), and the daughter his killed by a car when she runs into the nearby road.  Luc is put into a coma by the attacker but recovers fully. 

Luc identifies Kenny in a photo and the police trace him to an auto repair shop, and arrest him. He has a long rap sheet.  But a procedural error forces the government to drop all charges.  Luc gets an illegal weapon and executes Kenny at the shot, with a scene shown only  in flashback from the trial that follows.  Luc goes for the strategy of “irresistible impulse” to try to get acquitted.  The entire European model for justice is put on trial.

We learn that Kenny was given up by his well-off parents to a foster home because as a child he wet the bed too much.  He didn’t get he life “he deserved”.  The whole film turns into a meditation on why bad things happen.

I saw the film as the Avalon in Washington, on a large curved screen (2.35:1), as part of Filmfest DC.  The auditorium was about half sold.

The official site (Eyeworks films) is here.  I don’t know if there is a US distributor yet, but it looks like the sort of film that could come from Music Box, Cohen Media, Sony, or even Strand.  This is a big budget, very professionally produced film from Flanders sources.

The film is in Dutch, which sounds so close the English that you almost don’t need the subtitles.
I have to say that the mood of the film is relentless. There is no “Timo Descamps” to cheer things up.  The outdoor scenery of Gent (a bigger city than I thought) is quite impressive.
There was another film in 1982 called “The Verdict”, by Sidney Lumet, where a lawyer takes a medical marijuana case to trial, with Paul Newman.  I recall seeing it in Dallas. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Antwerp (I was there in May 2001).

April 28: additional thought: 

I would say that Luc should have been convicted, but there is no way Denny could be a "victim".  Sometimes two wrongs make a right, but both wrongs must be separately punished.  Everybody loses.  Otherwise there is only forgiveness. 

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