FILM REVIEW: Verdict (2019): Exploring the underbelly of the criminal justice system

Community Opinion & Analysis Nov 8, 2019 at 4:20 pm

verdict-philippinesentrytooscars2019By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

In Verdict, Kristoffer King and writer/director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez summon their resident evil to create a gritty social realist film that explores the underbelly of the criminal justice system through a seemingly simple police procedural story.

Dante (Kristoffer King) lives with his partner Joy (Max Eigenmann) and daughter Angel (Jorden Suan). But this is not a love story. One night, when he comes home intoxicated, Dante raises hell and violently strikes Joy, all because of miscommunication. As their argument takes a nasty turn involving a kitchen knife, their child comes between them and gets hurt in the process. Meanwhile, neighbours hear the commotion. Joy flees the scene of domestic violence with her daughter in tow, and proceeds to the nearest police outpost, where she files a complaint of violence against women and child, or VAWC.

The camera then tightly follows the dramatic legal fight to hold Dante, the petty crook dad, responsible for his violence. We see him caught by barangay security officers, held in temporary detention at a local police precinct and followed by a succession of court dates.

The tension builds up as Joy pursues justice and Dante does everything to evade prosecution.

Implied here is that the key to success is the ability to endure the opposition without abandoning the process, and that this tension allows one to grow and to transform. Joy has to make wrenching decisions as she debates whether or not to come forward and share her victimhood. It also sheds light into the role that bureaucracy plays in keeping victims silent and blocking investigation or proceedings.

As the filmmaker, Gutierrez pulls the silver screen back on how flawed the justice system is and delves into that point of complicity. The choice of shots using close-proximity 50mm lens is informed by that idea of providing a sense of confinement, almost claustrophobic throughout.

If one feels anything for the damaged Dante, it’s because of the late indie actor’s expressive performance, which succeeds in making his everyday experiences like our own. This happens because the audience is given no freedom but to consent in the name of cinéma vérité (truth cinema).

It is commendable how professional and non-professional actors were integrated into the casting. The handheld camera consistently affects the tone of a narrative with raw aesthetic.
The auteur presents himself as an artist and a combustible character – introspection is stretched, invoking a subversion of the climax. Resolution of the conflict is nullified. Thus, exposing that the point of this film, and to an extent the filmmaker, is nothing more than sensorial. Gutierrez is guilty of this peculiar sort of style.

Verdict won the Special Orizzonti Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival prior to coming to Toronto.

The Film Academy of the Philippines fielded it as official entry to the 92nd Academy Awards/Oscars 2020. It remains to be seen how the world renders verdict to Gutierrez’ film.

Verdict

Writer-director: Raymund Ribay Gutierrez; executive producer: Brillante Ma Mendoza; cinematographer: Joshua A. Reyles; production designer: Rayn Faustino; costume designer: Ruffa Zulueta; music: Diwa de Leon; editor: Diego Marx Dobles. Rating: Not rated. In Filipino, English. Running time: 126 mins.

Starring: Max Eigenmann, Kristoffer King, Jorden Suan, Pakingan Rene Durian, Lourdes Javelosa-Indunan, Vincent Aureus, Stephen Humiwat, Liza Schneider, Sidney Schneider, Dolly De Leon, Jalyn Perez, Dominic Carpio