La Linea

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Drug films face the same argument that anti-war films face; in showing the actions of the characters, they end up glamorizing the very thing they are trying to denounce. In La Linea’s case, this isn’t a problem since they make no veiled attempts to show the drug world as anything other than one big shoot out after another. However, when real-life battles in Mexico are exceeding anything a screenwriter can come up with, then the movie better be a damned good one, otherwise, YouTube has several good (real) alternatives ready at a mouse click.

La Linea fails to capture the (ugh) Zeitgeist of the times in Mexico. Right now in the country where my parents call home, the government is fighting an enemy that has become a government onto itself and has the capacity to fight the army on equal terms. All La Linea can do is show a muddled tale of two factions that in no shape or form resemble any present day drug trafficking organization but more importantly, it is not even entertaining.

First off, director James Cotton made the unusual choice of not showing traffickers in their full power. In real life, it is not uncommon to see traffickers come into town with a 20 or even thirty vehicle-long convoy bristling with enough firepower to rival the Taliban in sheer force. Indeed, the film shows more similarities with recent drug-themed films such as Traffic or Man on Fire.  For a film that tries to show a gritty and present picture of a famously lawless town, the depictions of the cartels ring hollow.  There is no sense of urgency or fear from the populace, no real sense of connection with the outside world and if anything, you could replace its present setting and still get the same movie more or less.

Aside from that quibble, the film attempts to cover too many characters to the point that there is no emotional connection to any of them. Even Ray Liotta’s character barely gets more screen time than minor characters and it is quite a feat to show him in numerous speaking scenes and still get no insight into his past or even his present state of affairs. While the film tries to show his sorry state of mind, the result is sloppy and serves to question this specific plot element. (If a person’s death is troubling him, then what made the other target’s deaths easier to accept?)

More importantly, there is a massive logical pitfall. If Andy Garcia’s character was so convinced that Esai Morales’ character was hell-bent on ruining everything he worked for, why would he let everything come to pass and not just have him killed early on instead? It’s not as if he is pushed out of the power structure.

If the Cotton had turned this into a dark comedy, it would’ve turned out better. The situation in Mexico has become as absurd as a real life 80’s action movie. There are actual traffickers that go by names such as “The Bitch” (I am not making this up) and incidents where criminals have escaped prison via helicopter or the infamous cartel hitman who killed his victims by dumping them in barrels of acid. Indeed, the situation has become so bizarre, it would seem unreasonable to make a film like this with a straight face.

This is a shame, since this is a very timely topic and with a different direction could have turned into a great film. While there are some entertaining moments in the movie, they are too few to redeem a film that can’t decide if it’s a character study or a straight out action movie.