CAPSULE: This is a smart action/crime film from a first-time writer-director from Mexico. It is really three different stories, based on three real kidnap incidents, each taking place against the background of a different Soccer World Cup. Each is filmed with a different style and then they are interwoven so they are told in parallel. Keeping straight the action of three different stories would be difficult for a Spanish-speaker and is more difficult still for subtitle-readers. Deep inside this film will be a bleak revelation of crime and police corruption. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
At one time most of the crime films being made were made in the United States, and more often than not they came from the studios of Warner Brothers. With a huge infusion of action and gunfights, the crime films these days are a worldwide phenomenon and some of the most creative, or at least hyper-violent, are coming from the Far East, usually from Hong Kong and South Korea. One country that one does not usually associate with high-octane crime films is Mexico. Nevertheless, first-time director Everado Gout's DAYS OF GRACE is a Mexican film and is getting attention for its suspense and for its unusual structure.
The film sets the stage for what is to come by telling the viewer that at the time the film was made there had been 100,000 Mexicans murdered in their own country in the previous dozen years. That includes murders by the military and the police. But during the World Cup competition the crime rate drops by 30%, making these days "days of grace." Nonetheless, this film interweaves three kidnapping case stories, each set during a World Cup competition. One takes place in 2002, one in 2006, and one in 2010. The stories are not told in sequence but interwoven in parallel, as D. W. Griffith's did it in his INTOLERANCE. But in INTOLERANCE the stories took place in different eras that looked very different. In Mexico the culture did not change that much from 2002 to 2010. That makes keeping the story lines straight hard work. The plots are familiar. For example we see how an idealistic rookie in the system has to fight massive corruption. We see struggles for power rather than for justice. The film is really a long howl of rage. It is the style that is unfamiliar, not the story lines.
The stories are about the police, told against the background of the 2002 World Cup; about the hostage, with the story told against the background of the 2006 competition; and about the hostage's wife, told during the 2010 World Cup competition. As a hint for prospective viewers here is Gout's description of the style differences:
"In 2002 the style is more on edge, the music is more brutal, and the light is harsher, expressing heat, tension and violence. In 2006 the light is very dim, tension is in the air, not so much in the camera movement. It's a war of nerves. The atmosphere is more raw, more realistic. In 2010 Susana is filmed in fragments, with reflections. It's the most stylized. We only filmed her face, simply, towards the end, when she finally takes control of her life. The music is softer, wider; it expresses expectations."
Does the similarity of settings lead the viewer to confusion? The answer is "most definitely." That is particularly true if the viewer is unaware at the beginning that there are three storylines, each with its own set of characters. It would have helped immensely to have a screen explaining that these are three different stories that would be told with different music composers and with three different visual styles. That would probably not be sufficiently subtle for the director's esthetic, but it would be very helpful especially for non-Spanish speakers. The latter will find DAYS OF GRACE a hard nut to crack. It does have enough action to be entertaining and it will give a lot more to the viewer who can work out the style intricacies.
This is a good crime film with just too much style for its own good. Gout would have made a better film if he did not keep getting in the way of his own story telling. I rate DAYS OF GRACE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1450320/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/days_of_grace/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper