Towards Darkness

2008, Movie, R, 92 mins


Colombian-born writer-director Antonio Negret's kidnapping thriller tackles the same subject matter as Hollywood's big-budget, star driven PROOF OF LIFE (2000). But it's a grittier and more viscerally affecting film, despite its arty flashback/flashforward structure and a couple of plot twists too many.

Jose Gutierrez (Roberto Urbina, of TV's Gilmore Girls), isn't from a famous, politically connected or rich family – his father, Carlos (Tony Plana, of TV's Ugly Betty), is just a middle-class bank manager. But kidnapping is so common in Colombia that families carry insurance to cover ransoms like the $500,000 Jose's captors want for his safe return, and the police so notoriously ineffective that many relatives bypass them in favor of professional hostage negotiators. Unfortunately, the Gutierrez family's insurer has found a loophole in their policy and won't pay. It's been 19 days since Jose, who just returned to Colombia after and extended stay in the US, went missing. The exasperated kidnappers refuse to grant any more extensions: They want their money by noon – in 90 minutes -- and if they don't get it, they'll kill him. Carlos has acquired the cash through illicit channels, but the drop point is all the way across town: Getting it there is a race against time. The Gutierrez's negotiation team, led by former CIA agent John King (William Atherton), swings into action: Now that it's crunch time, King wants all options covered. He sends ex-FBI agent Charlie Bain (David Sutcliffe) to deliver the money and ex-Special Forces member Victor Ramiz (Cameron Daddo) to scramble am armed tactical team, while he coordinates from the Gutierrez apartment. As the action plays out, Negret uses flashbacks to fill in the details: Who the key players are – including father and son kidnappers Manuel and Sandro (Carlos Valencia, Alonso Arias), shadowy crime lord Umberto (Fernando Solorzano), Jose's ex-girlfiend, Luiza (Ugly Betty star America Ferrara, who also executive produced), Carlos' shady co-worker Felipe (Vicente Luna) -- how their destinies intersected and what decisions they made to bring matters to this desperate pass.

Negret brings personal experience to the material; his own family endured two ordeals by kidnapping, and he works up a painfull convincing sense of sweaty desperation. The only tip off that he's a first-time feature filmmaker is the overstuffed plot: Negret handles the multiple story lines and fragmented structure with smooth assurance. (In English and subtitled Spanish) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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