One Man’s Hero takes place during a conflict that doesn’t get all that much coverage in Hollywood, the Mexican American war. With a sweeping Patriot-esque vibe and a world weary starring turn turn from Tom Berenger, it’s an affecting tale that whether or not is based on truth, still packs an emotional whallop. Berenger is Riley, an Irish American who leads his mostly immigrant troupes through racial prejudice beset on them by their own American superiors, just one more obstacle thrown in with the already taxing war itself. Defecting from the troops, Riley is commissioned to lead his men on the opposing force, banding together with fiery, disillusioned Mexican revels leader Cortina (Joaquim De Almeida) and fight for acceptance and survival while navigating both sides of the conflict. Although there are a few impressive battle sequences staged here and there, the film is more about the private and personal wars fought amongst the ranks themselves, the notion that one army isn’t always just focused on the task and can get caught up in internal conflict, which often, including in this case, leads to unnecessary tragedy. Berenger and Almeida go at it fiercely in a love hate companionship constantly tested by the war and their mutual affection for beautiful fellow freedom fighter Marta (Daniela Romo). Underrated Patrick Bergin shows up in a severely powdered wig, Stephen Tobolowsky plays yet another one of his loathsome, letcherous roles and the late great James Gammon is the perfect embodiment of crusty yet compassionate General Zachary Taylor. Not a title that crosses many people’s vision when discussing war films, but a really solid effort despite a lower budget, a story that needed to be told and a star turn from Tom to remember.
La Cucaracha means cockroach in Spanish (duh), which is somewhat of an ironic and sad reference to the main character of this exquisite little indie character study, a damaged man named Walter Pool (Eric Roberts). Walter is a writer drowning in alcoholism as he spend his days hiding out in a Mexican shanty town. Wallowing in self despair, he’s the perfect protagonist just waiting for an inciting incident, and as we all know, rural Mexico is a breeding ground for trouble of all sorts to spur on a good campfire tale. While on a bender in town, Walter is approached by a shady American lawyer (James McManus) and offered a job with malicious implications involving the son of local Mexican mobster Jose Guerra (Joaquim De Almeida). He takes the task, but nothing is what it seems and he realizes he’s been set up, lied to and left for dead. Used to being a write off, something snaps in him and he fires up with a need to know the truth about Guerra and his family. He’ll wish he never bothered, because the truth is disturbing and not at all what you’d expect from this kind of tequila soaked, south of the border intrigue. There’s very little action, gunplay or usual thriller tropes, and pretty much all the narrative is left to the actors and the writing, making it very unique amongst this type of fare. This is essential for any Roberts fan, he’s not doing one of his extended cameos or winking supporting jaunts here. He’s front and center the entire time and owns it with vulnerability and resilience, especially in a curiously sad monologue that goes into his past and let’s us see some of what has led him to his unique, end of the road situation. Almeida once again plays a Latin criminal, but unlike most of the other times, he’s given something to do here besides wave a gun around and be the villain. He’s treated intimately by the script, giving Guerra a personality, secrets and a haunted soul of his own. The scenes later in the third act between him and Roberts crackle with charisma and potency. The cover of the dvd for this shows a gunslinger type guy brandishing two pistols. Ignore that fully. Nowhere in this film is there anything that can be branded as an action flick. It’s all about character, good and bad deeds, redemption, evil and choices we make. An astonishing little story that’s been seen by almost no one up til now, deserving of far more accolades.