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  • TBC
  • Action, Crime
  • 2005
  • 88 mins

Secuestro Express

Secuestro Express

Synopsis

In Jonathan Jakubowicz's feature debut, three kidnappers take their latest victims on a breakneck ride through Venezuelan society

About

"Let's play Venezuelan roulette", proposes the young man as he points his revolver directly into the camera before pulling the trigger with a deafening bang. And so, from its opening 'shot', Secuestro Express takes its captive audience at gunpoint on a heart-pounding tour of crime, corruption and class war in downtown Caracas.

After leaving a swanky nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, Carla (Maestro) and Martín (Leroux) find themselves victims of a car-jacking by Trece (Molina), Budu (Pérez) and Niga (Madera), three ruthless thugs hoping to make some quick money. As Carla waits for her father Sergio (Blades) to hand over the $20,000 ransom, she and her boyfriend of five years receive from their captors a brutal reality check about the city in which, one way or another, "everyone gets robbed."

Secuestro Express does for the streets of Caracas what Alejandro González Iñárritu's Amores Perros (2000) did for the cross-town traffic of Mexico City, or Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City Of God (2002) did for the favelas of Brazil - except that, unlike his predecessors, writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz adheres to an almost Aristotelian unity of time and space, confining his social commentary to a single narrative (much of which unfolds in an overcrowded car), and to a period of well under 24 hours.

The result is a ride as rough and rapid as any abduction, inducing in the viewer a sense of claustrophobia akin to what Martín experiences as he is forced to lie in the car's boot. And in case the plot's many twists and turns are not enough to keep a stranglehold on the attention, Jakubowicz deploys a bombardment of post-production trickery (timelapse photography, jarring jump cuts, split screens, etc) to keep everything at constant boiling point. This is filmmaking at its most energetic and intense.

As part of the film's overall economy of pacing, every player here is introduced with a brief caption that summarises what we need to know about their background, but the tensions encoded within these profiles ("Budu - painter, rapist, sentimental father") rescue the characters from over-simplistic stereotyping. Jakubowicz's three kidnappers are violent and at times sadistic men, and at least one of them is a stone-cold killer, but each is carefully individuated from the other, and each has a redeeming quality - while the officers of the law are seen to be capable of similar crimes or worse, and even the victims (especially Martín) are shown to be guilty at least of hypocrisy and arrogance.

Caracas turns out to be an urban landscape as morally ambiguous as anything from film noir, only far brighter and more vibrant. Here one's worst enemy can also be one's best friend, and everyone, from the cripple in the street to the robber at the ATM, from the car thief to the roadblock police, is looking for their fair share in whatever flesh, money and drugs are going around, in a city of great wealth and even greater poverty.

Shot digitally on location with a cast of locals (apart from Maestro and Blades) making their cinema debuts, Secuestro Express is fast, furious and darkly funny; and while the screenplay does rely heavily on a succession of implausible coincidences, that is all in the nature of 'Venezuelan roulette', a game of chance that is always loaded against the player.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Rubén Blades, Jean Paul Leroux , Carlos Julio Molina, Mía Maestro, Ermahn Ospina, Carlos Madera, Pedro Pérez, Edgar José Quijada
  • Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz
  • Screen Writer: Jonathan Jakubowicz
  • Producer: Sandra Condito, Salomón Jakubowicz, Jonathan Jakubowicz
  • Photographer: David Chalker
  • Composer: Angelo Milli

In a nutshell

Combining Tarantino-esque flourishes with a real social conscience, Secuestro Express is an edge-of-your-seat kidnapping thriller with all of the frenetic vitality of Man On Fire, but none of the reactionary politics. Thoroughly recommended.

by Anton Bitel

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