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rochefort [Film Festival 10.07.09] Chile movie review action

Year: 2009
Directors: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Writers: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 6 out of 10

Take a dash of 007, "Kill Bill", and "Shaft", throw in some cool Latin disco, spice it up with some badass martial arts and gunplay, and ground it with an extremely appealing turn from its lead, and you get "Mandrill", Ernesto Diaz Espinoza's sorta-retro martial arts/hitman movie that joins the ever-growing list of sharply-designed revisionist B movies. This time around the riff is on the sort of James Bond knockoffs that every country tends to make a million of, and stars Marko Zaror, Chile's answer to The Rock.

The title character is a young hitman on the hunt for Don Mario (Luis Alarcon), the man who killed his mother when he was just a lad, and Mandrill's latest assignment conveniently requires him to kill said one-eyed killer, now a drug lord living in a Peruvian gambling casino. Complications arise when Mandrill puts his eyes on Dominique (Celine Reymond), Don Mario's daughter, and is instantly smitten. He then proceeds to plan the big hit while wooing his target's little girl, with whom he is rapidly falling in love.

Not only can Zaror fight, shoot, dance (dicso!), and deliver tough-guy lines with the best of them, he's also a much better actor than you'll expect if you haven't seen him in the likes of "Mirageman". He's genuinely suave, the prototypical Latin ladies man of action, and just oozes charm. This one's worth seeing for him alone, but director Espinoza also demonstrates a considerable level of panache. The look of the film is a smooth blend of the bourgeois, vacation-spot aesthetic of the typical Bond movie and the kitschy style of Bond's low-budget imitators. This is entirely intentional, too; one of Mandrill's heroes is the cheesy action hero "John Colt", sort of a cross between James Coburn's Flynn and Dirk Diggler, and the "flashbacks" to Colt's adventures make it clear that Espinoza and Zaror are super-aware of the conventions of the hero/playboy sub-genre while simultaneously lampooning them.

The action scenes range from good to great, and Espinoza and Zaror choreograph and shoot each fight with the kind of sure-handedness we're seeing all too infrequently these days. The camera pulls back, the music drops out, and two guys punch, kick, and chop at each other with palpable intensity, and you believe every blow. The editing of fight scenes has become a make-or-break factor in modern action films, lesser movies often employing a rapid cutting style to disguise a lack of effective staging, and "Mandrill" stands out by giving its editor a break and letting key scenes play out in a minimum of shots. It's a refreshing return to basics that ends up being surprisingly powerful, especially when the agile and decidedly large Zaror squares off with equally-matched and convincing opponents. High marks go to the sound design, as well, especially in the fight scenes. The first time two characters traded blows, I was briefly jolted out as I realized that it actually sounded like it was supposed to, loud and painful but without H'wood overkill.

My only real complaint, and the reason for the only slightly above-average rating, is the third act, in which the plot turns and an extended coda spoil the fun and come off as a little obligatory and self-consciously clever. The last ten minutes or so just don't work, and fail to wrap up a confusing parallel between Mandrill and his tragic love interest that betrays the script's main real cock-up. It's not a fatal one, since the general tone of the film veers back and forth from straight to kitschy so often and so effectively that you more or less go with it, but my expectations had been so steadily raised throughout that the finale seemed like everybody just ran out of energy. Judging from the buzzed response to this one, I'm definitely in the minority here, so see the flick and judge for yourself, and just know that "Mandrill", flaws and all, is at the very least an early and immensely entertaining entry from a great filmmaking team.

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