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John Leguizamo has long played sidekicks and supporting characters. With Cronicas he seems to be looking for a meatier part.

Man on Fire

Leguizamo's serious leading role feels like his play for respectability
Leguizamo’s serious leading role feels like his play for respectability

Leguizamo plays Marolo, a television journalist working in Ecuador. He even has his own sidekicks, his producer Marisa (Leonor Watling), and his cameraman Ivan (José María Yazpik).

The three are in town looking for a child molester when they witness an incident. A man (Damián Alcázar) drives into town while a church procession is happening on the streets. He is distracted, and his truck strikes a kid, who dies from the impact. A mob forms, led by the aggrieved father, and they beat the driver senseless. The father pours gasoline on the driver and sets him on fire. The fire goes out, but the father, leading the mob, keeps coming back.

Ivan has been videotaping this event while Marolo and Marisa have watched. But when it looks like the driver might actually be killed, Marolo steps in and breaks things up. The driver and the father are both sent to jail, and there, the father stabs the driver, who survives yet again. Marolo and his crew visit the prison, where Vinicio, the driver, pleads with them for his life. If only they broadcast the danger Vinicio is in, maybe his life will be spared. Marisa firmly tells him no, so Vinicio plays his last card: he will give them information on “The Monster,” the very child molester the team came to town to investigate.

Journalistic Ethics

Cronicas isn’t so much about the story as it is about the moral dilemmas involved. That makes it a worse movie. It makes it preachy and contrived. It would have been better to leave the morals in the subtext than to wear them on the sleeve.

Some of these questions are: Should producers trade publicity for information? What if they were already going to do a story on Vinicio? Should they spin it hin his favor in exchange for information? What if they were to spin it in his favor to save his life? And we haven’t even begun to mention that the information being traded is about the worst type of criminal activity.

There is an even more troubling aspect to the story that arises later and introduces even stickier ethical questions. Eventually, the movie condemns what Manolo and his team decide to do, although it leaves the consequences up in the air.

Yellow Journalism

Most of the dialogue is in Spanish, although Leguizamo, whose character comes from Miami, occasionally lapses into English. Maybe the verbal acting is horrid — I’d never know — but generally it seems competent all around. Leguizamo doesn’t give an outstanding performance, but he does have enough presence to lead a cast. Other critics have praised Alcázar’s Vinicio, but I thought Yazpik (as the cameraman) was surprisingly good. Cronicas’ cameras take in the truck accident and ensuing fight, but the Ivan’s TV camera is focused on a mother’s face, or a bloody child, or some detail likely to make great TV.

But even the best acting in the world wouldn’t save Cronicas from its own ambition. Leguizamo’s serious leading role feels like his play for respectability. The subject matter and corresponding moral questions are gravid and serious. The movie begs to be taken seriously, but it isn’t up to the task. Like the news program the protagonists work for, Croncias is sensationalism sold as serious news. (The gratuitous sex scene with Leguizamo’s bare backside just drives the point home.)

But if you can get past the attempted gravity of the film, you may see a decent little independent movie with some interesting issues mixed in to its story. Unfortunately, that’s not all Cronicas was going for.