This is a film that is going to get at least a few peoples backs up before they have even allowed it to get going, as it treats something in a not unsympathetic manner that most people (this reviewer included) would regard as the very definition of cruelty to animals, namely organized dog fighting. However, give it a chance and you will rapidly find yourself drawn into the worlds of a series of interconnecting characters who's dogs have much to teach them about life and love.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who followed this up with the equally critical lauded and fractured 21 Grams, this is a film in 3 acts, each act connected by a bone crunching car crash, the very start of the film. From here, by shifting backwards, forwards and sideways in time we get to see the events leading up to the car crash and the tragic fallout of the crash itself. In one car is Octavio, who has been entering his dog in the aforementioned fights in order to raise enough money so that he can run away and start a better life with his sister-in-law Susana. In the other car is Valeria and her pet pooch, a model who is fast becoming a superstar and has just moved into an apartment with her lover Daniel, who has left his wife for her. And one of the witnesses of the crash is El Chivo, a former professor turned revolutionary who is living on the streets with his pack of stray dogs following a lengthy jail term and hiring his services out as an assassin. All three of them are due to learn important lessons from their dogs.
Written by Guillerma Arraiga, who also wrote 21 Grams and the superb 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada, this is the kind of film that Quentin Tarantino might have made Pulp Fiction into if he had been as interested in real people as he was in super-hip dialogue and interesting film-making techniques (and before you all get started, I am not saying that Pulp Fiction is a bad film). Every character, from the 3 leads to the plethora of supporting turns feels real, a flesh and blood human being with needs and fears, but of particular note must be Emilio Echevirria as El Chivo, a shaggy tramp with hidden depths and a lethal past, and Gael Garcia Benal as Octavio, the slum kid with big dreams, who is as compelling an actor as you are ever likely to see. Infused with an almost documentary style immediacy thanks to the hand held camera-work, Inarritu handles the non linear structure of the film with aplomb and verve, and can shift with ease from raw, on the streets violence to the hang-ups of the upper middle class. On the strength of this and his follow up 21 Grams he is a director to be embraced and cherished.