Greetings again from the darkness. If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if the often-great Paul Schrader wrote his version of the Liam Neeson action-revenge film, TAKEN (2008), well here is your answer. Okay, so it’s not the exact story line, but it’s close enough for conversation, and director Alfonso Pineda Ulloa seems happy to work with a script that is not Schrader’s best, yet clearly bears his stamp. The esteemed screenwriter has had recent success with THE CARD COUNTER (2021) and FIRST REFORMED (2017), both of which he also directed. And his track record of screenplays includes such remarkable work as TAXI DRIVER (1976), HARDCORE (1979), AMERICAN GIGGOLO (1980), RAGING BULL (1980), and AFFLICTION (1997).
Jose Maria Yazpik stars as Neto Niente, known on the street as “The Jesuit”. We first see him being released from prison in Huntsville, Texas after serving only four years as a convicted murderer. As Neto is leaving, the jailer says, “I’m sure I’ll see you again.” Neto’s sleazy attorney (played by Tim Roth) recommends he leave town and stay away. Of course, Neto says he first needs to see his young son. Julio (Keidrich Salladi, “The Americans” son Henry) is happy to see his beloved father, but Neto’s wife Nadia (Paz Vega, SEX AND LUCIA, 2019) is frightened for their safety because her boyfriend, Vincent (Neal McDonough, fun to watch in two of my favorites “Justified” and “Boomtown”), is a psychopath criminal kingpin, and his reaction to Neto’s visit is murder and kidnapping.
Before learning that his son has been kidnapped, Neto tries to calm the waters with those pursuing him. This includes the local police and the Mexican cartel that he once worked for. We see flashbacks of Neto’s work and it’s obvious the film’s title fits. During all of this, he meets Inez (Shannyn Sossamon) a capitalistic strip club worker. The two team up to track Julio to Mexico, but not until Neto has had a few brutally violent run-ins with the cartel and a gun dealer who goes by the name Jet Rink (James Dean’s character in GIANT was Jett Rink). The gun dealer is played by Tommy Flanagan (“Sons of Anarchy”), and their meeting is yet another brutally violent scene.
Neto is a tough, confident, man, who despite his particular set of skills, remains mostly quiet; however, he is consistently involved in brutally violent interactions, which is why I keep referring the film’s brutal violence. I’d like to say this is an exaggeration, but it’s not. And just in case some viewers need more, Act 3 ratchets things up a notch. Ron Perlman (a hardworking actor recently seen in last year’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY) shows up as Sans, some kind of crime lord who has a dungeon perfectly set up for torture and imprisonment, and director Ulloa takes full advantage.
The film’s opening quote, paraphrased from the book of Exodus, reads “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons.” This is a B-movie packed with thrills, adrenaline, energy, and yes … brutal violence. It’s a world of payback and retribution that never offers Neto the chance for the spiritual new beginning he hopes for. Schrader’s script lacks the character depth of his best work, and seems to be aimed at a group of viewers with a very particular set of tastes.
In theaters, On Digital, and On Demand beginning May 27, 2022