“EL CHICANO” is a crime-drama written by Joe Carnahan and Ben Hernandez Brey who also makes his directorial debut. Set in East L.A. the story follows a detective played by Raúl Castillo, who is assigned to a case investigating the cartel. As he digs for clues, he finds himself entangled in a turf as well as uncovering evidence that builds mystery to the events surrounding his brothers suspected suicide, and his ties to the urban legend known as “El Chicano.”
Admittedly this movie snuck up out of nowhere and I didn’t know much about it. From the trailer it looked like an action film with a vigilante themed story, headlined by a Latin American cast, with some strong splashes of violence. So, with all that standing I went into this one with both curiosity and the hopes for a good time. And it delivered on that, however differently than I was expecting. This isn’t a pure action film. It’s much more a crime-drama with some action scenes incorporated. This is a story-line with many layers centered around a case that the script takes the time to evolve properly. Which I was pleasantly surprised by.
There were some hindrances at times. The pace was a little slow in sections with some scenes that could have been trimmed to keep the progression consistent. The dialogue in some areas was also on the clunky side and could have used some polishing. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance from Castillo in the lead and felt he was able to carry the film on his shoulders. But some of the dialogue written for him was not as crisp as it could have been which showed in the delivery at times. However, like I said he was great in this role regardless and was able to capture some genuine emotion that made him easy to connect with.
Another small issue is one I don’t think I’ve ever had before. This was an English language film and there were sections Spanish is naturally being spoken. In certain areas where this is lengthy, and so happens to be relevant to moving the story forward, there are subtitles splashed in. But there were many smaller moments that didn’t have them. Now not everyone will notice or care, but these small instances for me could have possibly captured more nuances to the characters themselves and their relationship dynamics with others. Several times short phrases or sayings would be said between characters that would draw a response to the people around me that I was sort of excluded from which was a bummer.
Other than that, this was a great movie that captured my attention and held it throughout. The story-line weaves its way through the progression of this detective trying to solve this case involving the cartel and it was well-crafted. It builds consistent intrigue. It delivers doses of information at the right time, and blends in some nicely timed flashbacks to fill in backdrop while still moving the main narrative forward. I felt it was a complete story that developed both the plot-line, and the character-arcs and that is what a good crime-drama should be able to do. Yet despite being complete as it was, it also sets the stage for more story-telling in this world that I find very appealing as a fan of moody vigilante films.
The action-sequences were effective for the needs of the story. The gun-play was visceral and intense. The shaky-cam techniques at times does hinder the visual appeal, primarily in some of the car-chases. Later though the camerawork settles and captures some solid fight-sequences. It was certainly a blend of choreography and style. There is a heavy use of lighting-effects and rainfall at times that were clearly there to complement the set-pieces rather that to just serve as the backdrop.
But the gritty sequences still show off some violent fight choreography that I enjoyed for what it was and how it fit the tone of the subject-matter. Overall this was a very good movie that builds the foundation to a world of other potential films I would like to see. It delivers moments of vigilante justice that had me up in my seat. And it progresses through a narrative that was familiar at times, but still very much able to capture its own meanings and messages. It wasn’t perfect but the effort was consistent, and I recommend checking this film out if you like a layered crime-drama with a heavy action influence to create some thrills as well.