To Kill a Man (2014)

16 May


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The Chilean film “To Kill a Man” is one of the most rare of revenge films: a type that is morally uncertain. This film, based on a true story, sets up a conflict that drives its protagonist to kill the antagonist and then the resolution causes the protagonist, and the audience for that matter, to wonder what has been resolved. On the one hand, some people are safe again. On the other hand, the protagonist is left wondering what vengeance solved, and with his usually emotionally-insecure inner life even worse than before. By trying to change things for the better, the worse has risen as an effect.

That’s not a mark against the film, necessarily. In my opinion, it leaves a stronger impact and causes you to think about what you’ve seen after you leave the theater.

The film, written and directed by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, sets up the conflict as we’re introduced to our main character named Jorge (Daniel Candia). Jorge is a caretaker at a nature reserve and lives with his wife, Marta (Alejandra Yanez), and two children. He’s also somewhat emotionally timid. He can’t stand up for himself and tries to avoid confrontation. When he encounters a gang of thugs from the projects, the gang picks up on this right away and decides to mock and humiliate him before actually mugging him. His teenage son is anxious to stand up to the leader of the thugs, Kalule (Daniel Antivilo), since Jorge won’t, and sneaks out in the middle of the night. By the time Jorge catches up with him, Kalule shoots the son and is sent to prison for 18 months.

Two years later, Jorge is not living with the family anymore, as Marta has kicked him out of the house for not standing up for himself in the first place, thus putting their son in that situation. Kalule is released from prison and seeking revenge. He harasses the family with threatening phone calls and vandalism on their property. He even sexually assaults Jorge’s young daughter. Jorge and Marta try to get Kalule arrested for terrorizing the family but are unsuccessful. That leaves Jorge with the choice to man up and decide to take the matter into his own hands.

“To Kill a Man” uses long, interrupting tracking shots and static shots to give a documentary-like/voyeuristic feel. It’s both disturbing and fascinating to watch events unfold; and as the inevitable creeps around the corner, it gave me tension waiting to see how it would play out. The two most memorable scenes occur halfway through the film, as Jorge sets out on his crusade. One is a tracking shot involving a car alarm as a lure. The other is a long-running static shot where more is heard rather than seen.

It’s easy to see what’s coming; even the title renders it expected. But what makes “To Kill a Man” more memorable is what happens afterwards. The pride that Jorge expected from performing his deed is instead replaced with guilt and more apprehension. He can’t even bring himself to tell his family not to worry about Kalule coming after them anymore. This turns the film not only into a well-crafted revenge tale but also an effective character study. Jorge is an outcast and will remain so for the rest of the life. There’s not a clear answer as to how long he’s been the way he is or how it originated; there are just subtle emotions from his family that state they’ve put up with it for so long.

That Jorge spends most of his time in an empty forest is symbolic in the isolation that he feels. There’s also a scene in which he tries to tell a vagrant to move from the forest, as part of his job, but then he returns to chase him away with a shotgun. I could be reading too much into this, but I took it as a way of saying that Jorge prefers to be alone and possibly doesn’t want change in his life after all.

Something else that can represent this is the camerawork that leaves plenty of headroom for the character. This originally annoyed me (and I even felt like I wanted to grab the camera and tilt it down a little bit), but shortly after my friend saw the film, he had a comment that changed my view for the better—that the headroom was further emphasizing Jorge’s seclusion from everyone and everything. Looking back with that in mind, I let it pass.

Even if we’re not sure exactly what to take from “To Kill a Man,” from a moral stance, it’s hard to deny the sheer power it delivers with the way it presents a dilemma, a possible resolution, and how a flawed protagonist can act and feel throughout such an ominous situation. It’s a dark, compelling film that I won’t forget anytime soon.

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