Novelistic detail of life in modern Puerto Rico is both the challenge and the reward of "Thieves and Liars," which manages to cram in just about every evil visited upon the island in the name of drugs. Helmers Ricardo Mendez Matta and Poli Marichal shared a best-director award at this year's Phoenix fest.

Novelistic detail of life in modern Puerto Rico is both the challenge and the reward of “Thieves and Liars,” which manages to cram in just about every evil visited upon the island in the name of drugs. Pic is strong as an ensemble piece and a “Traffic”-like how-they-done-it, and could fare well in Spanish-lingo markets. Helmers Ricardo Mendez Matta and Poli Marichal shared a best-director award at this year’s Phoenix fest.

Oscar (Steven Bauer) seems like a fairly good guy until, in avenging wrongs done to his buddy (Cesar Farrait), he turns twice as bad as the drug boss he displaces.

Subtly crafted saga interweaves tales of several families into a tapestry of trouble caused by Puerto Rico’s growing role as a major transit point in moving narcotics from Latin America to the States.

Secondary thread follows Wanda (Magda Rivera), an airport worker who runs a legitimate storage business; a tough newspaper reporter (Mexico’s impressive Elpidia Carrillo); the reporter’s teenage son (Carlos Paniagua) who takes drugs, and her intransigent ex-husband(Dennis Mario). Other characters include Oscar’s sexy young mistress (Lymari Nadal).

Pic underlines the level of corruption entrenched in island life since drug money came in.Throughout all the turmoil, rigged court cases, and bloody deaths, the kilos of coke keep getting shipped to America.

DV-to-35mm transfer is good, although tube-like lighting sometimes gives things a soapy look. Although pic builds to emotional finish involving all the main players, script is matter-of-fact about what took everyone to this point, which is subtly underscored by the spare, piquant music.

Thieves and Liars

Puerto Rico-U.S.

Production

A Ladrones y Mentirosos production. (International sales: Rocopolis, Los Angeles.) Produced, directed, written by Ricardo Mendez Matta, Poli Marichal.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Jaime Costas, Willi Berrios; editor, Martin Singer; music, Superaquello; production designer, Monica Monserrate; costume designer, Gladyris Silva; sound (Dolby), Antonio Betancourt; line producer, Ellen Gordon; assistant director, Carlos De La Torre; casting, Patricia Alonso. Reviewed on DVD at Seattle Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), June 17, 2006. (Also in Phoenix Film Festival.) Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Steven Bauer, Elpidia Carrillo, Magda Rivera, Jose Heredia, Carlos Paniagua, Lymari Nadal, Dennis Mario, Daniel Lugo, Gabriela Rosario, Isidro Bobadilla, Luz Maria Rondon, Cesar Farrait, Arturo Paredes. (Spanish dialogue.)
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