A decent, cautiously idealistic policeman watches his life unravel as he pursues a lethal terrorist in John Malkovich's ambitious directing debut, adapted from the novel by Nicholas Shakespeare. In an unnamed South American country sometime in the recent past, soft-spoken lawman Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) is handed a volatile case. The capitol has been rocked by bombings and dead dogs appear hanging from street lamps, dynamite in their mouths and hand-lettered political slogans around their necks, including references to a leader named "Ezekial." Rejas and his partner (Juan Diego Botto) are charged with finding Ezekial who styles himself as the "fourth flame of communism" without ruffling political feathers or delving too deeply into the network of corrupt alliances between government, the military and big business. Rejas already has a good idea who he's looking for: University professor Duran (Abel Folk), who slipped through his fingers at a checkpoint five years earlier. But Duran is lying low, letting his followers do the dirty work, and Rejas's personal life is a distracting shambles. Estranged from his vacuous wife (Alexandre Lencastre) and cash-strapped by the stagnating economy, he can barely afford his daughter's beloved ballet lessons. Her understanding dance teacher, the gravely beautiful Yolanda (Laura Morante), becomes a bright spot in daily routine, holding out the promise of another kind of life. Meanwhile, Duran's reign of terror grows worse: the Minister of the Interior (Jose Antonio Izaguierre) is assassinated at an avant-garde theatrical production, the president declares martial law, chaos claims the streets. In the darkness, Duran's followers set off firework displays, as taunting as they are beautiful. Rejas begins drifting away from the verities he once took for granted, and refuses to acknowledge what's right before his eyes: Yolanda's obvious revolutionary affiliations might connect her to Duran. Shakespeare, who grew up in South America, was inspired by the manhunt for Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla leader Abimael Guzman, and Malkovich's debt to both the revolutionary films of Costa-Gavras and politically charged Graham Greene thrillers like The Quiet American is clear. Malkovich stages some stunning sequences, including an assassination carried out by uniformed schoolgirls, and his decision to dispense with Shakespeare's narrator, a British journalist, seems designed to remove the filter of a non-Latin sensibility from the story. But casting a film set in Latin America with Spanish- and Italian-speaking performers acting in English misfires; the actors' diverse accents clash, some are clearly more fluent than others and the sense of relief when anyone speaks a rare line in Spanish is palpable.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: A decent, cautiously idealistic policeman watches his life unravel as he pursues a lethal terrorist in John Malkovich's ambitious directing debut, adapted from the novel by Nicholas Shakespeare. In an unnamed South American country sometime in the recent p… (more)