The Film: Secuestro Express (2005)
The Principles: Jonathan Jakubowicz (Writer/Director). Mia Maestro, Jean Paul Leroux, Ruben Blades
The Premise: Two yuppies are kidnapped in a gritty crime drama centered in the most dangerous city on the planet, Caracas Venezuela.
Is It Good: Yes. I am under the impression that when film makers are able to capture the horror of the barrios (slums) of Caracas, they are able to turn it into captivating cinema. Some movies always try to find the good in the bad, and try to prove the impact violence has. In certain environments though, there is a generation so entrenched in murder and rape that they treat life as something of little or no value. This movie doesn’t blur the lines of good and evil with too many of the characters, and most of them are just diffetent degrees of sleaze.
Our main protagonist does everything right except she has a party lifestyle and a poor choice in men. Her father doesn’t have enough screen time to do anything other than worry about his daughter and one of the gangsters wants to get the money and run without hurting anyone. Anyone else that enters the film appears worse than those that have already been there. Our villains are subject to experiencing as many wrongs as they commit, some are so over the top it’s funny, but if you have ever been to Caracas you would know that none of them are unbelievable.
I had watched Secuestro Express shortly after my first visit to Caracas. I had no idea of the common kidnappings there or anywhere in South America. There are supposedly kidnappings in Caracas every 60 minutes. Secuestro Express is a fictional tale that often touches upon real life horrors that occur daily.
The film is relatively short (87 minutes) but feels much longer due to the harsh subject matter. It has just enough time to build characterizations around our kidnapped couple, but some of the antagonists get mashed together with similar motives and opinions. There are moments where the bad guys seem almost to care for the girl, but those moments are often replaced by some action worse than anything they had done previously.
The plot is fairly straight forward, throwing in the occasional obstacle and watching our team of thugs find a way past it while maintaining their control over their hostages is half the fun. In the U.S. film market, if there are criminals, then there is always that thought that they will be caught. In this film, the concern is less on them getting caught and more on will they keep their word and release the hostages. It uses the setting and the political status of the country to its advantage and leverages the grime that is apparent every day and the area in and around the capital city. The beginning of the film shows an aerial view of the mass barrios and then cuts to actual news footage of crimes, rebellions and rallies that occurred in Cacaras, basing the story in reality.
Is It Worth A Look: Yes. It tells a fictional story about real subject matter in a city that is well known for having these reoccurring problems. We see a lot of U.S. films try to create this type of tension and have such a hard time making viewers believe the risk and never once does Secuestro Express feel forced or made up.
Brazil released two documentaries about express kidnappings in the 5 years following Secuestro Express(Sequestro,Manda Bala).
It outgrossed both Titanic and The Passion of the Christ and was the former top grossing film in Venezuela (replaced by La Hora Cero).
The director Jonathan Jakubowicz has been kidnapped and held hostage for 45 minutes with a gun under his nose.
Only Ruben Blades and Mia Maestro had acted before this film.
Elizabeth Avellan, the executive producer, is the wife of Robert Rodriguez. She used his connections with Miramax to make Secuestro Express the first internationally distributed Venezuelan film.
Cinematic Soulmates: Sequestro. City of God. And Soon the Darkness. Kidnapped. Proof of Life