This week on Bro Film International we journey to Chile, the land of right or might, to bask in the glory of writer / director Ernesto Diaz Espinosa and star Marko Zaror’s latest action film, “Redeemer.”
“Redeemer” is the simple story of Nicky Pardo (Zaror), a notorious cartel hitman who is spoken about in hushed whispers as the most feared man in Latin America. But when the henchman of a burgeoning drug kingpin utters these words, Pardo has long since been one of the good guys. Having survived a long sojourn through the desert of self-loathing, Pardo now uses his acumen for violence in the service of doing the right thing.
After many years abroad, he has finally decided to come home. He promptly stumbles into trouble that puts him at odds with an upstart American druglord. He reluctantly becomes the protector of a local fisherman and a woman with a terminally ill son. Through flashbacks, we learn about the incidents that prompted Nicky’s turn for the good, and the reason he wakes up every morning, holds a gun to his head, and pulls the trigger. If he lives, someone else pays for their sins.
Admittedly, I’ve been waiting a long time for the latest collaboration between Espinosa Zaror– the combo that made Chile’s first martial arts film less than a decade ago– for a number of years now. I have to say that it’s worth the wait.
Zaror and Espinosa are showmen at heart and they infuse familiar genres with healthy doses of gore and an ability to surprise. They’ve taken on the traditional martial arts revenge picture before with their debut, “Kiltro,” then the crazy person / superhero / vigilante genre with “Mirageman,” and the spy picture with “Mandrill.” This newest one feels like Robert Rodriguez’ “Desperado” if you replaced some of Rodriguez’ pulp and folly with a little more gruesomeness and grit.
Back to the story. Pardo is unapologetic in the way he doles out his violence: he yanks teeth out with wrenches, puts a hook through the eye of a man who attacked a fisherman, smashes faces against rocks, and somehow manages to be even quicker on the trigger when the violence escalates to that point. Zaror is a big fellow at 6’2″ and his cartwheel kicks have been fetishized a bit, but “Redeemer” features some of the best pure martial arts action of his career.
A lengthy MMA-seasoned brawl at about the fifty minute mark shows that Zaror adapts to the current trends like every good martial artist does and, it should be noted, has a really strong ground game. More to the point, Zaror is not just a good choreographer but he has a director who loves carnage and collaboration. There isn’t a wasted punch, kick, or gunshot to be found. Zaror is currently the one martial artist being impeccably served by his director.
The storytelling in “Redeemer” may well be the best in their catalog as well. When the film doles out backstory for Pardo we learn about the accidental death that changed his ways. We also see a later, more pivotal moment that might have had a more selfish conclusion. Making such a 180-degree turn believable requires a lot of trust, but the filmmakers achieve it. They even create a kink in Pardo’s journey that adds even more layers of complexity when you see what he’s capable of and you know that some of that has to take a hard heart (or whatever remains of one).
The film also gives us a secondary villain in The Scorpion (Jose Luis Mosca, oozing greaseball menace and righteous rage) who is as changed by tragedy as Nicky is, and it helps to underscore the dual nature of man as fathers / killers and sinners / redeemers. Like Nicky he has a flaw that makes him hard to completely sympathize with– one I really don’t want to give away– but to a point, the hardening of his heart is also completely justified and understandable.
The story may be as simple as it gets, but Nicky and the Scorpion are complicated and selfish. I appreciated that, and I appreciated the economy with which they convey their flaws amid the violence. I also appreciated the differences in how they do it, too.
Zaror continues his long-standing tradition of stoicism, while Mosca plays up the sadism, perhaps because internalizing his vengeance-seeking hurts too much. The other reason is: once you’re this good at getting vengeance, why bother stopping?
It’s refreshing to see how clear the emotional stakes are at the climax. The final fight always means something in a Zaror film, but it isn’t often that you see two men soldiering through emotional obliteration in addition to their physical demolition.
Ernesto Diaz Espinosa and Marko Zaror undoubtedly hit a new stride with “Redeemer” and I hope it isn’t a long wait for their next film. If you want to watch them bust heads, “Redeemer” is currently available via numerous VOD platforms.