John Leguizamo, the brilliant and versatile Latino actor, makes his Spanish language debut in “Cronicas”; a film about tabloid journalism and its impact on popular culture. Leguizamo plays reporter Manolo Bonilla, a sensationalist muckraker who scours Latin America in search of the juiciest stories. He hits the jackpot while on assignment in Ecuador. A particularly brutal serial killer known as “The Monster” has murdered dozens of children. The local police have no idea who the killer is. Manolo and his team see a local bible salesman being attacked by an unruly mob. The man accidentally ran over a child. He is saved by the police, but is imprisoned for the accident. Manolo goes to interview the man over the incident and is offered a tantalizing deal. Help the salesman get out of prison and he will put him on the path to finding “The Monster”.
The crux of the film is Manolo’s belief that the bible salesman is “The Monster”. Both men play a cat and mouse game of manipulation. Manolo’s looking for a confession. He knows that he can get it. Without revealing more plot details, I thought this interchange falls apart in the second act. Manolo is supposed to be a highly skilled journalist, regardless of his aspirations for fame and fortune. It’s unlikely that a man of his experience would be so easily manipulated. He plays right into the salesman’s hands and that seems forced.
Cronicas wants to arouse a sense of outrage. It wants to show how irresponsible journalism can lead to tragic results. Manolo uses television as an opiate to dupe the masses; then gets in way over his head as he loses control of the story. The idea that people can be easily led by watching television is not new. The problem is that Cronicas doesn’t convince its audience that this can be done in a realistic way. The film then completely loses its foundation and becomes tedious.
The best thing about Cronicas is the setting. Ecuador is front and center at all times. The people are desperately poor and we see their lives in detail. Director Sebastian Cordero paints a gritty and tragic picture by humanizing the supporting characters. They don’t have a lot of depth, but it is fascinating to see their daily routine. It adds a touch of humanity to the film and is done very well. Third World countries are often depicted in a casual way without any understanding of the local situation. Sebastian Cordero respects his material and makes the setting integral to the story.
John Leguizamo really shows his range in this film. It is a bold career move, especially doing something so dramatic in Spanish. Cronicas is produced by Alfonso Cuaron, the director of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, and Guillermo Del Toro, the director of “Hellboy” and “Blade 2”. It’s wonderful to see the new guard of Spanish filmmakers and actors working together to show different stories from places ignored by Hollywood. In that sense, Cronicas is a good step in the right direction.