El Niño (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie directed by Daniel Monzón, starring Ian McShane, Luis Tosar, Sergi López, Jesús Castro, Bárbara Lennie, Jesús Carroza, Mariam Bachir, Saed Chatiby, and Moussa Maaskri.
Centered around a handful of intriguing characters, beautiful exotic locations, and action scenes comparable to the best of Hollywood, El Niño entered the London Film Festival with high expectations, partly due to the prior work of its decorated director Daniel Monzón. Monzón’s previous work includes the 2006 Spanish hit Cell 211 and 2006’s Kovak Box.
The film tells two sides of a story: one side is the police, the dedicated officials who go to great lengths and put everything they hold dear on the line to stop drug traffickers. The other side is the world of drug traffickers and the gritty, and sometimes, glamorous world they live in.
The film takes the audience from sunny southern Spain to Morocco, and even has some scenes in shady Gibraltar, with the backdrop serving as the perfect playground for the action of the film to unfold in. The expansive nature of the film takes advantage of its surroundings, including a spectacular boat chase through the sea. The choreography, cinematography, direction, everything was superb for this scene: A boat being chased by a police helicopter at night, the black night and the helicopter’s lights shining majestically off of the dark sea water. This scene was also the first time Jesus sees El Niño.
Jesus, played by Luis Tosar, is a driven police officer, who has spent years tracking and capturing drug traffickers. Unfortunately, he has never been able to capture a major player in the drug market. His inability to capture anyone of real power acts as motivational tool, forcing Jesus to try harder and capture this illusive whale. Tosar portrays the character as a strong-willed, morally incombustible, old-fashioned police officer. His relationship with his colleagues is friendly, yet serious. There are hints of sexual tension between himself and his partner Eva, played by Barbara Lennie, and the in-movie references made to this add to the film’s charm.
On the other hand, the titular character El Niño, played by Jesus Castro, is a young fisherman who along with friend Compi, played by Jesus Carroza, dreams of a better life. El Niño is frustrated with the low pay and limited prospects he currently has, enough so that he is easily talked into transporting a shipment for a local drug trafficker. Their instructions are simple: If the police are about to board you, dump the drugs.
The police are looking for a way to end the drug trafficking and the drug traffickers are looking for a way to avoid the police and make a life for themselves.
Between boat chases, car chases, drug raids, sadistic torture, and a few love scenes, the viewer gets to the experience serious character development and witness a solid and well-connected story unfold. The characters are rich and full of emotion and intensity. I suppose most of the credit should go to the well-written script and solid direction. El Niño could have been a big budget Hollywood blockbuster and based on what’s in the film, it merits that level of exposure and success.
Another of the film’s strength lies in its ability to mesh humour with moments of seriousness, done so elegantly that it never feels ill-fitted or forced. Also, the narrative of the film adds a level a depth that the actors are more than capable of emoting, creating a film that surprises in many ways.