‘The Evil That Men Do’: Film Review
The physical and moral perils of narco trafficking near the U.S.-Mexico border, as seen through the eyes of its bit players.
“We do what we do and we take responsibility for it,” states the moral vacuum that is the hero of The Evil That Men Do, and if what you do is delivering body parts to your boss’s enemies close to the U.S./Mexican border, then we all know what "taking responsibility" really means. The title of Catalan Ramon Termen’s fourth feature, and his first in English, suggests that we’re in for a No Country for Old Men-style examination of the effects of badness on the soul, and indeed the film’s first third raises genuine hopes in that direction. But later the tongue in the pic’s bloody cheek disappears and it becomes a gorefest, unable to deliver on its early promises.
Evil is set in Chihuahua, where the radio news reports 11 killings and a distraught news reader wonders “who will protect us?” before it segues into a sports story. Santiago (Daniel Faraldo), working for narco mafioso Lucho (Jose Sefami), is making love to Lin (Nikol Kolars) but refuses to come inside her, dimly aware perhaps that any child of his will probably have a short, nasty life.
Santiago’s sidekick, for reasons which are explained only half-convincingly, is an American, Benny (Andrew Tarbet) — but at least that kind of justifies the fact that most of the dialogue is in English. Martin (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) rolls up carrying a sack containing the kidnapped Marina (Priscilla Delgado, who it’s to be hoped didn’t need trauma therapy after the shoot), the 10-year old daughter of a rival gang head. Marina is put into a large built-for-purpose cage and the rest of the film explores, sometimes violently, the fissures that this sudden injection of an innocent young girl open across the various relationships. An early scene in which the couple stroll chatting through a blue-aired freezer room filled with dead body parts is as shocking as that early scene of Sicario.
Termens’ Catalunya Uber Alles was deftly satirical and not without depth, and these early scenes suggest that Evil will make an attempt to get at the dark heart of things via the use of some very black humor. But later it descends into violent set-pieces which are clearly taking voyeuristic pleasure in all the gore — set-pieces which look like the last resort of a script which doesn’t know where to go. Evil has become just nasty, a fiction just as pulpy as the Mickey Spillane novels which Santiago interestingly enjoys, but without the twisty, Tarantino-esque delivery at which the script is so clearly aiming.
Faraldo (who also co-scripted) as the scrawny, twitchy and unpleasant Santiago is certainly credibly amoral, looking as though his frame has been worn thin by the constant expenditure of nervous energy on guessing his opponents’ next moves, but the character is let down among other things by a wavering accent that sometimes seems to have an Irish lilt. Tarbet is presumably there as a bridge for a potential U.S. audience, but he never shakes off the half-explained implausibility of Benny’s backstory. Peris-Mencheta as Martin is more interesting, mostly because, for long stretches, neither the other characters nor the viewer are quite sure where he’s really coming from.
There are a couple of unaccountable lapses of judgment, most noticeably in the ironic use of Tex-Mex music, a simplistic flashback by Santiago (featuring, yes, his cruel padre) which does little but break the flow and a moralizing coda which is a fittingly glib end to a script, and a movie, which having raised all sorts of interesting questions, then finds they are too complex to handle.
Production company: Segarra Films
Cast: Daniel Faraldo, Andrew Tarbet, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Priscilla Delgado
Director: Ramon Termens
Screenwriters-producers: Daniel Faraldo, Ramon Termens
Executive producer: Sandra Forn
Director of photography: Sergio Bartroli
Production designer: Albert Arribas
Costume designer: Ariadna Papio
Editor: Anna Termens
Composer: Yuval Ron
Casting director: David Arribas
Sales: Segarra Films
Not rated, 93 minutes