`Crónicas' (2004) written and directed by Sebastián Cordero has authentic look of the countryside of Ecuador, and very strong performances from the three leading actors. The content of the film itself, part thriller about a serial killer, and part social satire about the media, looks more American than you might expect from the Ecuadorian-born director, who went to France at the age of 9, and studied filmmaking at university in California. But his semi-documentary touch proves he has originality, with realistic atmosphere that sometimes bring to us the smell of the places like seedy prison or humid swamps.
John Leguizamo plays a Miami-based TV-reporter who stumbles upon a big story about the heinous serial killer "the Monster of Babahoyo." Manolo, star reporter of Tabloid TV show (host played cameo Alfred Molina), believes that this timid middle-aged man Vinicio, who is now in prison because of one fatal hit-and-run accident, knows something about the killer that scares the local people.
While Vinicio offers a deal, there is another question - is he telling Manolo the truth? Or is he himself the Monster?
`Crónicas' has suspenseful moments, but it is not a murder mystery. If you're an avid reader of crime novels, you can predict the story fairly well, and the main characters - fame-hungry TV reporter, his female assistant (Leonor Watling, `Talk to Her'), and the portrait of the killer itself - are pretty stereotyped ones. Its oversimplified statement about the media, as is shown in its tagline (`If it's on TV, it must be the truth') looks old to me, having been repeated again and again in the films like `Mad City.' Today people don't believe the `story' so easily as the film thinks.
But the sinister, brooding mood of the places director Sebastián Cordero shoots with keen eyes, and the riveting acting from underrated Leguizamo, and creepy but convincing acting from Damián Alcázar is another thing. The director did a fantastic job of capturing the air of the small community.
Perhaps the film gets most chilling when it shows the darker (or I should say complicated) side of the people in this small town. Actually, the most impressive moment does not involve the serial killer, nor the media circus. I am talking about one long sequence, in which one dies and another is nearly killed after being brutally treated. Here Cordero shows his undeniable talent as director. The film is well worth watching for these terrific moments, not for the simplified commentary on the media that you might have already heard before.