Film noir is a perfect fit for Mexico City in Javier Patron’s stylish debut “Chilango Blues.” Just as urban crime has transferred beautifully to the Hong Kong streets under the helming of such friends of noir as Johnnie To, Patron finds just the right tone and set of characters and story elements to make the genre feel distinctly Mexican. Premise of a hood’s slow-burn revenge on a corrupt cop also gives the pic the stuff of international play.
Released from prison, quiet, serious hood Malboro (Demian Bichir, movie-star stunning) catches up with younger brother Cucu (Armando Hernandez) on his 22nd birthday. Cucu has all of Malboro’s worst traits — a taste for crime and violence — with none of his better attributes –good judgment, maturity and, above all, choosing one’s words carefully. Uncle Jesus (vet thesp Rafael Inclan), a former boxer who now runs a seedy gym that makes its counterpart in “Million Dollar Baby” look like a palace, has tried to keep Cucu in line, but to no avail.
Enemy to all three, cop Rojas (Damian Alcazar, in a role he was born for) takes any bribe and screws over anyone in sight. Rojas is deliciously bad and an ideal foil to an antihero like Malboro, who has been led to believe that Cucu ratted him out only after succumbing to Rojas’ torture. Clearly, both Malboro and Rojas aren’t going to get out of this 24-hour period alive. A grand finale is inevitable, yet imaginatively drawn out.
Writers Guillermo Rio and Vicente Lenero weave into this pulpy fabric some strands — including the kidnapping of a senator — that at first seem extraneous, yet brilliantly work with the Malboro-Cucu-Rojas plot.
Patron draws out rich, underplayed perfs from an exquisitely cast ensemble, which he frames in highly expressive widescreen compositions, with lenser Patrick Murguia as a key collaborator. Music trio Meme’s electronic score supplies precisely doomy accompaniment.