Johnny 100 Pesos

  • 1993
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Crime, Drama, Thriller

Based on a true story of a bungled video-store heist in Santiago, this was Chile's entry for the 1994 Foreign Film Academy Award. It's not a perfect film, but it is a taut, powerful crime drama as well as a thought-provoking, tightly scripted view of how one media event can have a huge effect on a society. It's a better and more honest film than most of...read more

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Based on a true story of a bungled video-store heist in Santiago, this was Chile's entry for the 1994 Foreign Film Academy Award. It's not a perfect film, but it is a taut, powerful crime drama as well as a thought-provoking, tightly scripted view of how one media event can have a huge

effect on a society. It's a better and more honest film than most of the fluffier European films that usually get notice from our Academy.

Under the cover of a video store, Don Alfonso runs an illegal money-exchange business. A gang of criminals breaks into the store. They don't know that Alfonso and the money are locked in a back room, so by the time they find it, the police and media have been alerted and surround the building. The

criminals' only recourse, since they choose not to give up, is to take hostages.

Of all the criminals, the novice, 17-year-old schoolboy Johnny Garcia, gets the most attention. A TV crew interviews his mother, his teachers and his ex-girlfriend. The one female hostage, Glorita, takes a liking to him. He gives her some of the money and asks her to wait for him to finish his

inevitable prison term.

Although Chile's newly elected democratic government wants the incident to be stopped, they tread lightly so as to prevent deaths of either hostages or criminals. Responding to continued pressure from the police, the criminals demand to be safely exiled to Cuba. Johnny's mother discovers that he's

been a thief for a long time. A TV crew films her as she speaks to Johnny on the phone. She tells him that he deserves to go to jail. In anger and frustration, he shoots the television.

Knowing that their time is running out, the criminals begin to swallow the hostages' jewelry and coins. Breaking an earlier promise, Glorita tells Johnny she won't visit him in prison. The criminals free the hostages and allow themselves to be captured, but Johnny stays behind. Deathly afraid of

prison, he shoots himself. He survives, and wakes up in an ambulance. The ambulance's window slats look like prison bars. He covers his face with a sheet to block out the light.

JOHNNY 100 PESOS starts out like a simple crime thriller, but develops in unexpected directions. It's a political allegory, an exploration of the media's role in Chile's society, and a tale of troubled youth. The depth of the writing is impressive, as are the writers' abilities to veer into

several subplots without becoming confused or losing focus.

Johnny is a great protagonist--inexperienced and naive, with an innocent face, but also brash and energetic. Refreshingly, no psychological explanations are offered for his behavior. He simply became a criminal, and, due to his inexperience, his emotions get the better of him.

The video store and office (on the 8th floor of a downtown building) create a powerfully claustrophobic atmosphere, as does the camera work. As the other men taunt Johnny with tales of the realities of prison life, the camera closes in on his horror-stricken face. The suffocating presence of the

media and police, constantly on the office TV, shouting up into the building, and milling about in the halls, builds suspense and contributes to the feeling of doom that surrounds Johnny.

JOHNNY 100 PESOS could have taken the easy way out and ended with a barrage of gunshots. Though the ending lacks action, its straightforward authenticity gives a stronger message: life goes on, and we have to deal with the consequences of our actions. With the inclusion of the subplots about the

media, the government, and Johnny's school, JOHNNY 100 PESOS shows that Chilean society is not much different from ours. In both places, much of what we do is driven by outside influences.

It's rare for a Chilean film to receive theatrical or video release in the US, and JOHNNY 100 PESOS did not attract much attention here. Nonetheless, it shows a universal theme in a unique circumstance and is an extremely welcome import. (Extreme profanity, sexual situations, extensive nudity,violence.)

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  • Released: 1993
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Based on a true story of a bungled video-store heist in Santiago, this was Chile's entry for the 1994 Foreign Film Academy Award. It's not a perfect film, but it is a taut, powerful crime drama as well as a thought-provoking, tightly scripted view of how o… (more)

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