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Latino Reviews

Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler waited 16 years after his critically acclaimed MEDIUM COOL to return to feature film directing with LATINO, another political picture, this time about the US sponsorship of the contra war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Eddie (Robert Beltran) and Ruben (Tony Plana) are Hispanic US Army officers (Vietnam veterans) working with the contras in Honduras. While there, Eddie falls for Marlena (Annette Cardona), a Nicaraguan expatriate who eventually becomes a convert to the Sandinista cause after returning to her homeland. Eddie's relationship with Marlena, and his experiences with both the contras and the Nicaraguans he encounters on across-the-border actions, bring about a gradual moral awakening in him, a repugnance for what his country has called upon him to do, and by the film's end he symbolically renounces his not-so-secret role in the war. The problem here is Wexler's heavy-handed one-sidedness. While his shot composition is filled with the sort of nuances one expects from so accomplished a cinematographer, his characters and the issues he addresses are drawn in black and white: the Sandinistas are gallant innocents, the contras barbarians, Eddie's conversion a little too pat, the film's symbolism a bit obvious. But flawed though it is, LATINO is a noble undertaking by a filmmaker willing to put his heart and his politics before box-office expectations. As the end credits roll, Jackson Browne sings: "Can you hear me? / Wake up / Where's the Voice of America?" With LATINO, Wexler poses the same question; unfortunately, his plea has been more than a little muffled by his own heavy hand.