Stars: Chloe Moretz, Simon Baker and Paz Vega
Baker is Jack Bishop, a father and high school football coach in a Texas border town called Del Rio. That's real football not that American stuff, by the way. His daughter Toby is on the team, of course, and she's a little interested in things that little girls perhaps shouldn't be interested in, even if they're old enough to be starting with their periods and putting on lipstick. She wanders off to a back street and steals a very cool snowglobe, if that's what you can call it when it's a pyramid containing the angel of death. Toby's mother died of cancer and he has a new wife, the acting Del Rio sheriff's cousin, Amaya, to whom he's been married for three years. Everyone seems to get on fine, a happy family unit built over a past tragedy.
And then Toby's kidnapped, from a football practice before Jack gets there, and our mystery begins. Some of it is pretty routine, such as having the local cops following up on known paedophiles, one of them triggering a lot of attention given that he's apparently active and may have been parked by the football field at the time. He skips out on the cops too even though he's under 24 hour surveillance. Some of it is a lot less routine, such as the growing cult over the border in Mexico called Santa Muerte or Holy Death, condemned by the Catholic Church as devil worshippers. They're everywhere in this film though the reasons are not made immediately clear. Perhaps it's tied up with a recurring card we see called El Diablito.
The real questions tie to Jack himself and they continue to add up as the minutes tick away in this film, not just because a wise woman tells him that the darkness he's spent a lifetime evading now beckons him to his home. He's fluent in Spanish but none of his family or friends know this. When the FBI ask about his first wife, he not only can't provide a death certificate but can't even tell them where she's buried. The hospital she apparently died at has conveniently burned to the ground taking all its records with it. In fact they can't find any records for either her or for him. Jack Bishop doesn't seem to have existed until about ten years ago and his daughter is eleven.
This film was made during Simon Baker's time as Patrick Jane in The Mentalist, currently halfway through its second season, and there's so much here that rings bells that it can't have been accidental. It isn't just the skeptical comments about psychics or the fact that the paedophile is called Redd, just like every episode title of The Mentalist contains the word 'red' to reflect the underlying story of Red John, his nemesis. It's that there are scenes here that play out just like we expect a particular episode of The Mentalist to play out, when he finally tracks down Red John. To be fair there's much here that you wouldn't see on CBS, from chicken decapitation and voodoo sacrifice to bloated whores and Mexican strip clubs, but I could so see Patrick Jane escaping from jail disguised as a tranvestite prostitute.
It's a tough film, though not really because of the traditional things films are rated for. Sure, there's bloodshed and nudity and foul language, but those simply feel appropriate for the setting and don't feel gratuitous. Really it should be rated H for heartbreak and I for brutal irony, because those are the things that kick in here. This one ends with a concept of twisted revenge that I haven't seen before and it's a deceptively powerful one that resonates. There are layers of consequences here, cleverly stacked to the degree that my initial thought when the film finished was that there would no doubt be a mangled American remake.
It really doesn't feel like an American film, not only because the other most obvious name in it hardly looks American. He's Gedde Watanabe, still best known as Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles, though he looks a little different here as a balding FBI agent. Mostly I think it's because what parts of the film aren't actually set in Mexico are set in a heavily Hispanic border town, a good portion of the dialogue is in Spanish and even the leading lady, Paz Vega, is Hispanic, though she did replace a Panamanian actor at the last minute. It really plays like a Mexican film with an American star and hey, I'm not going to complain about that in 2010. Bring 'em on, I say!