Crónicas Movie Review
The film opens with one of the most harrowing depictions of a near-lynching ever captured on film. In a small town in Ecuador, mourners hold a funeral for the most recent victim of the "Monster of Babahoyo," whose tally of tortured, butchered children is already in the hundreds. After the ceremony, the twin brother of the victim is suddenly run over in a tragic accident. In a murderous rage, the father of the boy and some of the townspeople attempt to immolate the driver, Vinicio (Damián Alcázar). At the last minute, he is saved in part by the efforts of Manolo (John Leguizamo), a famous telejournalist there to cover the slayings.
Manolo interviews Vinicio, now in jail, to do a follow-up when Vinicio entices him with another story. He has information on the Monster. When Vinicio's information turns out to be correct, Manolo begins to suspect that perhaps Vinicio is the monster. The only problem is that in exchange for more information, Vinicio wants Manolo to use his show to help him get out of jail.
The moral conflicts and suspicious discoveries that follow lay the groundwork for an engrossing portrayal of a media gone mad. The is-he-or-isn't-he tension of Vinicio's story is dwarfed by the will-he-or-won't-he tension of what Manolo will do with the information he uncovers.
For his part, Leguizamo does a decent job as the self-seeking Manolo, though his performance is fairly one-note since his character seems to long ago have come to grips with the nastier side of the industry. Far more impressive is Leonor Watling, as Manolo's producer Marisa. Her character arc shows a bit more dimension, as she's slowly sucked into the questionable decisions her crew needs to make as the story unfolds. José María Yazpik provides droll and welcome comic relief as the cameraman, Ivan.
Alcázar shows the most range, convincing you one minute that he's the victim of horrible circumstance, and the next that he may be the most atrocious killer imaginable. In one particularly riveting scene, he describes how he claims the Monster once told him how he picked his victims, but it's hard to believe he isn't speaking from experience.
The cinematography, by Enrique Chediak, saturates the principals in deep blues and greens, creating a gritty look for a grimy tale. It seems to be no coincidence that two of the producers are established Mexican directors Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro. Their visual flair seems to have rubbed off on this production.
As the revelations mount and the film draws to its compelling dénouement, the role the media plays in life-or-death decisions becomes paramount. The viewer is forced to ask which is the greater evil, that which commits it, or that which facilitates it. In Crónicas, the answers don't come easy, if at all.