In today’s world of around the clock global news coverage, one gets the sense that all too often the news media has been growing desperate for material to fill airtime, and that this has given rise to an increasingly graphic and questionable predatory style of journalism. And as much as we, the audience, wag our fingers in disdain and repugnance, we show our tacit acceptance by watching it endlessly. In the film “Cronicas”, director Sebastian Cordero takes aim at this new brand of journalism, exploring the nature of truth in reporting and the media’s ability to color the perception of that truth.
Chameleon actor-comedian John Leguizamo (“Spawn,” “Summer of Sam”) plays Manolo Bonilla, a Miami-based reporter for a Spanish-language tabloid news show called “An Hour With The Truth.” Manolo is the kind of reporter who fancies himself an adventurer, and likes to have his face on camera with fantastic events taking place behind him. When the film opens, we see Manolo, along with his producer Marisa (Leonor Watling, “Talk to Her “) and cameraman Ivan (Jos’ MarÃa Yazpik, “Nicotina”) in Ecuador covering the funeral of three children, the latest victims of a notorious serial killer known as ‘The Monster of Babahoyo.’
Moments after Manolo has secured an interview with one of the dead children’s brother, the boy is accidentally run over and killed by a traveling Bible salesman named Vinicio (Damian Alcazar, “Men with Guns”). The enraged mob drags Vinicio from his truck and beats him to within an inch of his life, with Manolo and his crew filming the event right up to the point where the crowd douses Vinicio with gasoline and sets him on fire. It’s at this point that Manolo heroically steps in to rescue the poor man — just in time to be captured on camera doing so.
With his impending lynching still a looming threat, Vinicio bargains with Manolo to use the fame-seeking reporter’s considerable public influence via his TV show to secure freedom in exchange for some choice information about The Monster. Thus begins a cat and mouse game between Manolo, Vinicio, and the police, with Vinicio preying on Manolo’s ego with surprisingly detailed stories about The Monster, whom Vinicio claims to have once picked up when the killer was hitchhiking. Easily suckered in by the idea of becoming the hero that exposed The Monster, Manolo struggles to keep the increasingly suspicious police at bay.
The beauty of “Cronicas” lies in the details, such as in the brilliant opening scene, where we see Manolo and Marisa sizing up the mourners to see who would be the best interviewees in order to achieve maximum impact. Meanwhile, Ivan the cameraman is moving a grieving mother out of the way so that he can get a better camera angle. There’s also the interplay between Vinicio and Manolo, as both try to get the upper hand during their interviews.
The intensity and uneasy atmosphere in the interview scenes are heightened by an excellent performance by Damian Alcazar. Alternating between poor, whimpering victim and steely-eyed antagonist, Alcazar makes you shed a tear in sympathy and makes your skin crawl within the same sentence. Also good is Leguizamo as the smarmy motor mouthed reporter who wants to do the right thing, as long as he’ll make out okay in the end. The comedian-actor finds the right balance between dedicated camera ham and self-appointed champion of justice, his Nuevayorquino Spanglish adding an amusing touch of street-wise authenticity to the role.
It’s hard to think of Manolo’s similarity to FoxNew’s Geraldo Rivera is purely accidental. Rivera is a reporter who has come under fire repeatedly in his career for questionable ethics in pursuit of a story, an accusation he usually rebuts with sanctimonious self-aggrandizing. And so it is with Manolo, even as it becomes increasingly clear that Vinicio is more than he seems. When questioned by Marisa and Ivan on the new discoveries, Manolo’s justification is that the police will get the information when the story breaks, so no harm is done in the meantime.
Unfortunately, the movie loses much its steam the instant its big secret is revealed about two thirds of the way in. The rest of the film is about filling in the details which, while compelling, can’t match the energy of the build up. But this wouldn’t be as big a deal if the film knew what it wanted to be. Unfortunately Cordero seems to be confused as to whether his film is a thriller or a satire, and while he skillfully throws in elements of both, neither serves the other, resulting in two halves of two different movies that don’t quite mesh together into a satisfying whole.
As “Cronicas” moves along on its predestined course, Cordero sticks with his undercurrent of skewering the news media for its moral hypocrisy, culminating in a final scene that is both sickening and satisfying. To that end, “Cronicas” is an engaging film with a strong cast, and it’s unfortunate that its own heavyweight subject matter is undone only by its lightweight feel.
Sebastian Cordero (director) / Sebastian Cordero (screenplay)
CAST: John Leguizamo …. Manolo Bonilla
Leonor Watling …. Marisa Iturralde
Damian Alcazar …. Vinicio Cepeda
Jos’ MarÃa Yazpik …. Ivan Suarez
Camilo Luzuriaga …. Capitan Bolivar Rojas