The Verdict (Het Vonnis)

Dir: Jan Verheyen
Star: Koen De Bouw, Johan Leysen, Hendrik Aerts, Veerle Baetens

This is a nicely different take on the "vigilante" movie, with focus not so much on the act of retribution itself, as what follows. An accidental encounter leads to the death of the wife and young daughter of Luc Segers (De Bouw), at the hands of Kenny De Groot (Aerts), a thug with a criminal record as long as your arm. But a bureaucratic bungle lets De Groot walk free. This is where the film diverges from the expected Death Wish route. For while Segers does indeed, take revenge, he then sits down and waits for the cops to arrive, intent on having his day in court, and exposing the justice system for the incurably-flawed monster it is. The rest of the film covers his trial for murder, with the judiciary deciding that he must be tried, or risk opening the gates to any number of possible copycats, intent on taking the law into their own, perhaps for less credible reasons.

It's an interesting variant, though you pretty much have either to know something about the Belgian legal system, or take everything on faith. [Victims of crimes have to hire a lawyer too? Or am I interpreting that wrong?] It's definitely talky, especially during the second half, which is almost entirely set within the courtroom, but there are some very good speeches from all sides. There's a better sense of balance here than the usual vigilante pic, and you realize even De Groot was a victim in many ways. In the end, however, Verheyen does come down on one side, and that feels a bit of a mistake, even as it's made clear that there are no real winners in a case like this. Fading to black before the verdict is announced might have been considered a cop-out, but there are times when it's better for film-makers simply to get the audience asking the questions, and not trying to answer them definitively.

[May 2014]

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