The Snitch Cartel: Film Review

The Snitch Cartel Poster - P 2012

The Snitch Cartel Poster - P 2012

Carlos Moreno's genre film about the drug wars has energy but no depth.

Colombia's foreign language Oscar entry is lively but doesn’t offer nearly enough fresh variations on the 'Scarface' formula.

Colombia’s submission in this year’s foreign language Oscar race, The Snitch Cartel, is a genre piece about the drug wars of the 1990s. It’s a lively if overly familiar melodrama that doesn’t stand much of a chance against weightier foreign entries. But it’s also having a brief theatrical run here. Audiences won’t be bored, nor will they be inspired.

The film is adapted from a longer TV miniseries. The compression involved in creating a two-hour feature is obvious and not always very graceful. The film jumps back and forth in time and hopscotches over North and South America as it follows a young man, Martin (Manolo Cardona), who rises to a top position in the Colombian cartel before being forced to become an informer for the DEA. Martin and his best friend, Pepe (Diego Cadavid), find crime to be their only way out of poverty. Martin also hopes that his newfound status may win him the love of Sofia (Juana Acosta), the upper class woman who has obsessed him since they both were children.

To incorporate a lot of information about the various Colombian cartels during a 15-year period, the film relies heavily on voice-over narration, along with printed titles and newsreel footage to sketch the real events of the period. The narrative progresses in fits and starts as well as lumps of exposition, but it’s edited with flair to keep tension building. The physical production is impressive, with vibrant scenes filmed in Cali and Bogota as well as Mexico City, New York, and Miami. Bursts of violence alternate with steamy sex scenes to keep audiences alert.

The attractive actors also help to make the movie watchable. Cardona has a smoldering presence, and Cadavid is properly menacing as his corrupt pal. Tom Sizemore has an effective cameo as an American DEA agent, and the great Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz Jr., who died after completing the film, adds texture to the role of a deadly Mexican drug lord. On the other hand, Adriana Barraza (an Oscar nominee for Babel) is wasted as the hero’s solicitous grandmother.

The filmmakers have suggested that the love story gives the movie heart, but this is actually the weakest part of the film. Acosta is attractive enough, but the film never convinces us that this feisty, sensible woman would be swept along in Martin’s life of crime. And there are awfully contrived moments that blemish this romance. In one climactic scene, Sofia travels from Colombia to America in search of Martin, and she happens to arrive at a remote New York garage just in time to witness a gun battle that reveals Martin’s true nature. She bolts in fury, and to the film’s credit, there is no joyful reconciliation of the lovers at the end.

Some of the film’s acerbic touches are welcome, but Snitch doesn’t offer nearly enough fresh variations on the Scarface formula.

Production: 11:11 Films.

Cast:  Manolo Cardona, Juana Acosta, Diego Cadavid, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Kuno Becker, Tom Sizemore, Adriana Barraza, Robinson Diaz.

Director: Carlos Moreno.

Screenwriters: Luiso Berdejo, Juan Camilo Ferrand, Andres Lopez.

Producers:  Manolo Cardona, Juan Carlos Caicedo, Juancho Cardona, Francisco Cardona, Alex Garcia.

Director of photography:  Mateo Londono.

Production designer: Jaime Luna.

Music: Carlo Siliotto.

Costume designer: Ximena Bessolo.

Editor: Jorge Macaya.

No rating, 107 minutes.