18 July 2005 | noralee
A Tough Look at the Responsibilities of Tabloid Journalism
"Crónicas" is an updated, Latinization of Billy Wilder's cynical 1951 film "Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival)," where a tabloid reporter selfishly manipulated an emotional story of a trapped miner.
Where films like "Medium Cool" and "The China Syndrome" showed reporters as heroes getting radicalized by the stories they are covering, writer/director Sebastián Cordero effectively creates a hot, grimy, gritty environment for an ethically-challenged tabloid TV reporter who gets too mired in a serial murder investigation in the slums of Equador that recalls the hysteria and circus around the Atlanta child killings.
The irony of the power of today's ubiquitous media is shown to searing effect, including the power to manipulate it for personal purposes by all sides. The cat and mouse negotiations between the reporter and a questionable source (the enthralling Damián Alcázar) are as tense as those in "The Silence of the Lambs," and in an ugly environs that we can practically smell through the screen.
John Leguizamo is completely believable as a swaggering, self-promoting celebrity TV reporter for a popular show covering scandals across the southern hemisphere, flitting from his Miami base to drug lord hostages in Columbia to salacious murders, in and out of English. We are alternately sympathetic to his efforts and his bouts of conscience, then repelled by him.
He is flanked by somewhat stereotypes of a lanky, battle-hardened cameraman who eagerly focuses on close-ups of violence and gore and an ambitious woman producer who plunges into research and infidelity with equal verve, who utilize the most shiny, high tech communications gear to capitalize on their tunneling through the muck of human nature, though even they finally reach their ethical boundaries.
The focus is kept tightly on the reporter's responsibilities, as the producer comments ruefully: "We got the only honest cop in Latin America." The script and the camera certainly play with us, in edits of slowly revealed information that change our impressions of the facts, and as the reporter tensely tries to both get a scoop and do as much of the right thing as his ambitions allow.
As an intelligent thriller, this film certainly puts a brutal spin on the issue of a reporter protecting his sources, even as the worst of the implications happens off camera.
The background song selections fit the mood, though I have some feeling that the Spanish lyrics had significance.
The English subtitles had some errors.