Last Stop 174

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Toronto International Film Festival

In Rio de Janeiro in 2000, a crazed, doped-up young man took the passengers on bus 174 hostage, beginning a five-hour standoff, happily stoked by the Brazilian media, whose vivid televised images would become famous all over the world. In 2003, director Jose Padilha released a well-received documentary about the event.

For reasons that remain unclear, the well-known Brazilian director Bruno Barreto ("Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands," "Four Days in September") has now decided to make a fictional film on the same subject.

Unfortunately, the film is much too violent and, in any case, really not fresh enough to do well on the art-house circuit, so its theatrical future is unclear. Ancillary sales should be better.

Barreto is a veteran director, and shows countless times that he obviously knows what he is doing. Yet the film seems derivative and stale. He seems to think that prospective international audiences haven't a clue about the rampant poverty (and the attendant violence) that exists in the favelas of Rio, but, in fact, we've seen it all before in all too many films, going back at least as far as "Pixote." Even the fact that the police are often as violent and nasty as the criminals they pursue is fairly well-established by now.

As he tells it, the hostage-taker, Alessandro, is set on a violent criminal path by the murder of his mother, a cafe-owner. A typical product of the grinding poverty that afflicts parts of Latin America, he is so badly educated that he is unable to write down the rap music he invents.

In the meantime, another Alessandro is taken from his mother as a baby by a local drug kingpin, setting off a years-long search for him once she finds religion and gets off drugs. The two Alessandros will meet on the mean streets of Rio, witness various police attempts to deal with the "riff-raff" children by murdering them wholesale, and will bond in prison and end up sharing an (all-too-short) life of crime.

One problem with the film is that the acting is not always convincing among the young boys obviously taken from the streets for their authenticity. Another difficulty is that the melodramatic elements of the story have been racheted up as high as possible, leading often to cliched situations and dialogue. (Even the very tired night-time helicopter shot around the large statue of Jesus that stands on the mountaintop outside Rio is recycled once again.)

The non-stop violence--even if it does indeed reflect the reality it documents--will of course turn many off. Even when it takes the more benign form of people simply screaming at each other, which occurs virtually non-stop through this nearly two-hour film, the violence will eventually wear down even the most sympathetic audiences. Given the public available to a film like this, it's ultimately too intense for its own good.

Production Companies: Moonshot Pictures, Movie&Art, MACT Productions, Paramount Pictures, Globo Films
Cast: Michel Gomes, Chris Vianna, Marcello Melo Jr., Gabriela Luiz
Director: Bruno Barreto
Screenwriter: Braulio Mantovani
Producers: Patrick Siaretta, Paulo Dantas, Bruno Barreto, Antoine de Clermont-Tonnere
Director of photography: Antoine Heberte
Production designer: Claudio Amaral Peixoto
Editor: Leticia Giffoni
Sales: Myriad Pictures
No rating, 110 minutes


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