Wednesday, August 11, 2010

La Soga: The Butcher’s Son

Everyone should have a skill, like butchery. “La Soga” kills people. Good enough. Don’t worry, he operates under strict government supervision—unofficially, of course. That is how things work in the D.R. in Josh Crook’s revenge drama, La Soga (a.k.a. The Butcher’s Son, trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Death as a profession runs in Luisito’s family. At a tender age, he learns how to butcher hogs from his father. However, when he witnesses the impulsive murder of his father by an ambitious street thug, it makes him a bit angry. Fortunately (or not), a shadowy general takes the orphan under his wing, grooming him to become a ruthless killing machine for his special projects.

It is supposed to work something like this. The American government deports hardcase felons back to the Dominican, at the behest of the good General Colon. Then La Soga and his team track them down, rousting them on a pretext. One way or another, they “resist arrest” offering La Soga the opportunity to terminate them permanently. While problematic from an ethical point of view, there is a pragmatic elegance to scheme, as long as it is guided by pure vigilantism.

However, when La Soga learns not only is the general is taking bribes to shield predators from their retribution, but is also in business with the man who killed his father, all bets are off. Too bad that puts a damper on his budding romance with Jenny, his recently returned childhood sweetheart, who seems a bit turned off by the sight of her prospective lover gunning people down on national television. Talk about fickle.

Aside from a spot of romance between Luisito and Jenny, La Soga is about as gritty as gritty gets. Though Crook and his producing partner brother Jeff are Brooklynites, the film has a vibe and texture not unlike many of the darkly naturalistic crime films that have recently come from Mexico (La Zona, Black Sheep, etc.) Of course, that is hardly surprising given the Dominican and Washington Heights roots of its star and screenwriter, Manny Perez, and its authentic locations on the D.R.

Though not a superman, Perez is all kinds of bad as La Soga. Frankly, he is convincing enough when seething for vengeance or laying-down a beating to earn a spot in the next Expendables movie. Though sometimes a bit awkward in her film debut, Denise Quiñones also exhibits a fresh, likable screen presence as Jenny. Unfortunately, General Colon is basically a cartoon villain, without any juicy scenery-chewing. Indeed, the political subplots border on the ludicrous, as Colon conspires with some nebbish American bureaucrat, who might as well be called the Assistant Secretary of State for Graft and Vigilante Killing.

Viewers should be warned, La Soga will give them a decent introductory course in butchery by the time it is over. While the lack of a strong villain is a drawback, Perez shows great promise as an action anti-hero. It also has a dynamic soundtrack from Aventura, a group known for fusing bachata (the so-called “Dominican blues”) with contemporary styles. Not revelatory but consistently interesting, La Soga opens this Friday (8/13) at the Village East.