csaWhat is the journalist’s responsibility? Is it to get the best story or is it to help people? This is the question that haunts John Leguizamo in his first Spanish speaking role in Cronicas. A hotshot reporter for a pan-Latin America news station, Leguizamo and his team are in Ecuador doing follow up interviews about a series of terrible child killings. He is getting an interview with a father who has lost one of his sons to the mysterious murderer when, suddenly, the other son is accidentally run down. An angry mob sets on the driver and beats him, chokes him, douses him with gasoline and tries to light him on fire.

He won’t go up once, and it’s only after then that Leguizamo, who has had his camera man getting good shots, steps in to help the guy. The police arrive and arrest the driver and the father, who was ringleader of the mob. Meanwhile, Leguizamo cuts together a news story that shows him as the hero of the day.

In prison, the driver fears for his life. He tells Leguizamo that he knows inside info about the child killings – he has met the killer, and the killer has told him secrets, including where more bodies are buried. As the things the driver tells Leguizamo prove to be true, Leguizamo begins to suspect that this guy is the killer after all. He can either keep getting exclusive interviews and try to get the guy confessing on camera, or he can turn the evidence over to the police before it’s useless to them.

This year I feel like I have seen a number of films with third act problems, movies that build to a screwed up or just plain bad last third. Cronicas doesn’t have a bad third act – it just doesn’t have one. The movie builds and builds, giving us Leguizamo’s dilemma and having a savvy and unusually honest cop circling him, and then it just ends. When the screen went to black, just before the credits ran, I honestly expected a fade in with a title card saying “6 months later.” But it’s not there. The movie doesn’t sputter to the end, it just sort of stops and gives up.

Which is really too bad because much of the film is quite good. Director Sebastian Cordrero has crafted a film that at times is truly unsettling, and the concept is a strong one. It’s also incredibly relevant – while this film is set in the flashy world of Spanish language tabloid journalism, there’s nothing all that different from the sensationalism that you’ll see on a Fox News Network, or any news show that devotes tons of time to shark attacks or missing girls in Aruba or runaway brides. These are people who will go to any length to get the story, ethics be damned.

Leguizamo especially acquits himself wonderfully. I’ve always known that the guy is a real talent – anyone watching any of his one man shows knows the way he can slip in and out of characters, and not just in a superficial comedy way – but he has rarely gotten a chance to shot it onscreen. It’s a good role, a superficially confident TV journalist who is full of doubt and conflicts about the morality of his actions. He bites into it and plays it for all its worth.

The rest of the cast is fine as well (look for Alfred Molina in a tiny role), and the movie builds a reasonable head of steam, but the finale is just so unsatisfying that I walked out of theater shaking my head. The abruptness of the ending is certainly part of the point, but it doesn’t make it work any better. The film spends just a little too long on pointless subplots, like Leguizamo’s affair with his producer, who happens to be his boss’ wife, and those minutes could have gone to crafting some sort of a gripping third act.

Cronicas is two thirds of a really good movie – someone let me know when they find the rest.

6.8 out of 10