by Phillip Clarke
CALGARY-In a world where tights and capes constantly rule the box office, it’s entirely refreshing to see a cinematic superhero who hasn’t had his share of the limelight. El Chicano finally gets the chance to come out of the shadows with a real vengeance. The titular hero saga tells the story of twin brothers caught in the middle of horrific gangland Los Angeles. Growing up, Diego and Pedro (Raul Castillo) could not be more similar. As time goes on however, they age in a world that is not kind to them in the slightest. They live in an environment that wants nothing more than to see their brotherly bond utterly torn apart. East LA is so harsh that they both end up working on opposite sides of the law as adult men. One becomes a cop, while the other embraces life being a lauded gangster in his own right.
Ben Hernandez Bray makes the jump from decades-spanning stunt-work into the director’s chair, as well as a co-writer with both grace and aplomb. The man was born to tell stories. His years of working on several different films from Pearl Harbor to Iron Man and American Hustle more than prove his mettle for the kind of story that he’s telling here. There’s an utter finesse and a mastery behind the camera that can only come from a gifted talent who’s had years of practice to show for it.
Co-writer/producer Joe Carnahan has dipped his pen in bloody ink throughout his career. From angry dirty cops in Narc, to the over-the-top violence of Smokin’ Aces, all the way to Bruce Willis getting sweet revenge in the Eli Roth remake of Death Wish earlier this year, Carnahan certainly knows his stuff. His writing is oftentimes loud and angry, with a punk-rock voice that always has something fantastic to say. His works are populated by pulpy crime stories that are impossible to resist. El Chicano comfortably sits in with the rest of his oeuvre, as the next excellent addition to his storied work.
Films of this nature are often shot on location in the city in question, if not by being cleverly doubled thanks to the likes of Toronto, Vancouver or even Chicago. As hard as it is to believe, this sundrenched, blood-soaked crime caper was predominantly shot in and around Calgary. The city seamlessly helps tell the story that at no point detracts from its narrative proceedings. Calgary here certainly breathes and feels like a real LA, which is not something many Calgarians would probably ever say. That’s just how good the film truly is.
El Chicano is Latino and proud. It comes from a place of refreshing honesty and authenticity in its depiction of violence, culture and hero-worship. It’s a brutal, lean and mean revenge flick that deserves to be seen by the masses at large.Ben Hernandez Bray, Calgary International Film Festival, El Chicano, George Lopez, Joe Carnahan, Los Angeles, Raul Castillo