Spanish language. Mexico/Ecuador, 2004. Rated R. 108 minutes.
John Leguizamo, Damián Alcázar, Leonor Watling, José María Yazpik, Camilo Luzuriaga, Gloria Leiton, Luiggi Pulla, Henry Layana, Hugo Idrovo, Tamara Navas, Alfred Molina (cameo)
|Grade: B+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
icture a muddy South American village. A screaming mob surrounds a man after he accidentally runs over a child. The father wants revenge. The man is kicked; he is beaten. He is doused in gasoline. The police arrive on the scene, but may as well be pushing through quicksand. Reporters roll cameras and do nothing. Someone strikes a match.
This, the standout moment of Sebastián Cordero's Crónicas, is an intensely gripping, uncomfortably nail-biting sequence where anything seems possible. Your heart cries out to this helpless man on the verge of immolation. Yet, if you've interpreted the film's opening scene correctly, and you're pretty sure you have, this man is a fiendish predator who sexually assaults boys before murdering them, counting dozens and dozens of victims.
The man survives, obviously, or there would be no movie. The movie isn't just about him, though—it's about those reporters rolling cameras and doing nothing. They are led by a reporter from Miami named Manolo Bonilla (John Leguizamo), who makes a belated attempt to intercede and later produces a sensationalistic news story for a tabloid TV show called “One Hour with the Truth.” Thus he emerges as one of the heroes of the incident. Afterwards, the authorities haul the victim, Vinicio Cepeda (Damián Alcázar), off to jail for vehicular manslaughter. The desperate Vinicio places his hopes for release in the suddenly influential Manolo, enticing him with a tale about having met a hitchhiker who confessed to being “The Monster,” as the aforementioned serial killer is known.
John Leguizamo interviews Damián Alcázar (left) in Crónicas.
Naturally Manolo suspects Vinicio of being The Monster himself. Despite the misgivings of his colleagues (José María Yazpik and Talk to Her's Leonor Watling), he chases the story, believing he can arrive at the truth.
Forget the film's heavy-handed tagline—“If it's on TV, it must be the truth”—an observation which might have been satirically insightfully back when Network was hailed as a masterpiece but now just brings back unpleasant memories of Fifteen Minutes. Crónicas is a gritty story about a reporter who gets carried away by his ego while he believes he is pursuing the greater good.
Manolo's character is best represented by his offhanded response to a question about whether he ever cheated on his wife. “Yes,” he says, “but that's not why we separated.” He doesn't take responsibility for his mistakes, but most importantly, he has a capacity for self-delusion and doesn't consider how his own actions affect the world around him. Manolo doesn't stop to ask whether keeping Vinicio's revelation to himself is the wisest course of action. Manolo rationalizes that if he informs the authorities, they'll just beat up Vinicio until he makes up lies. Manolo believes that he can get more out of Vinicio than the police, but his true motivation is to expose the infamous Monster himself and become famous in the process.
Crónicas presents “One Hour with the Truth” as an over-the-top tabloid (featuring Alfred Molina in a tiny cameo as host Víctor), but the film is much more subtle when it comes to character development. Leguizamo portrays Manolo as a casual, personable egotist. Note the slight shift in his behavior toward Marisa (Watling), treating her as a colleague before he sleeps with her, and more like an assistant afterward.
The film's greatest asset, though, is Mexican actor Damián Alcázar (La Ley de Herodes, Dos Crímenes), who plays Vinicio as a man with not two faces, but three or four, commanding sympathy one moment and then crossing over into uncomfortable smarminess the next. A traveling peddler of Bibles and catechisms, Vinicio is both victim and victimizer, family man and monster, groveling weakling and calculating predator. Vinicio improbably claims not to remember The Monster's face and revealingly states, “A man alone explores places other men don't explore.” Just when Manolo becomes absolutely convinced Vinicio is the killer, Vinicio becomes quite convincing that he isn't. Vinicio muddies the waters so much Manolo loses the plot.
Everyone has a blind spot. For Manolo, a solid journalist with good instincts, that blind spot is his ego, which leads him to insert himself into the story with unintended consequences. While Crónicas comes disguised as an intelligent thriller containing a bit of commentary on our frenzied media culture, it's an even better character study.
Review © August 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Palm Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
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