Directed by Josh Crook
Runtime: 102 min.
The colonial architecture and streets of the Dominican Republic have stood in for many a film set in
Cuba, but rarely has a film been set in the Caribbean island that tells a story
about the culture and people of DR itself. La Soga, written by and starring Manny
Perez, a Dominican-American who has a lot he wants to say about the country
where he was born.
The story centers on the actions of Luisito (Perez), aka La
Soga (the rope), a sensitive hit man who also happens to be a vegetarian
butcher and lives in a shack in a small town on the outskirts of Santiago. The conflicts
don’t end there. The action-packed thriller (plenty of chase scenes and bullets
flying, worthy of a film with a much bigger budget) is pulled between genres:
part love story, part action film, part political intrigue, part indie foreign-language drama (the graphic, beautifully shot, pig slaughter scene may be the one moment that could potentially tie all of these tropes together). It’s as if Perez and others involved in the film wanted so badly for it to be marketable and accessible to as wide an audience as possible, they made sure they ticked every beloved box on a producer’s check list. The focus could have been refined and made for a simpler tale. As is, it’s a thrilling ride—as long as you don’t try to dig too deep into the narrative structure.
Director Josh Crook has the advantage of an outsider’s
perspective who seems fascinated by the beauty of the tropics—as well as the
power of his main character. Perez has a stunning onscreen presence. His boxer’s
build, deep tan and light eyes radiate the power and grace of an actor who deserves more mainstream attention. We can believe that next-door-neighbor beauty Jenny (played by 2001 Miss Universe Denise Quiñones) would fall into his big, strong arms. But that romance seems a bit tacked on when the strongest story being told here is the way in which the DR government is in cahoots with the federal government and it’s a two-way street of corruption between Santiago and New York City.
Luisito and his cousin Tavo (Hemky Madera, most recognizable from his role on
Weeds) dole out "justice" fairly easily to all the bad guys. But Perez and Crook hang the "inspired by true events" label on the film, which ultimately screws up the formulaic point of a "truthful" entertainment. (Aren’t just about all stories and films inspired in some way by true events?) But here’s hoping that Perez continues to develop his storytelling skills and returns with a more honest, less fabricated film that will appeal due to its honest strengths rather than eagerness to please.