Hombres in the Hood
Hunting of Man was originally titled Last Night in Miami, which tells you a little about the local connections of this film, screening as part of the Miami Latin Film Festival. The writer/director Joe Menendez is a Hialeah boy, and others involved in the production also hail from here. But the final product takes place in Los Angeles, in a generically Latin neighborhood. Okay, no fault in that, but there are other problems. The script is cluttered with clichés, the production a bit amateurish, the plot at times silly -- in the climactic scene, reminiscent of West Side Story, it starts to rain, in L.A.
So now that that's out of the way, this isn't a bad film (and neither was West Side Story). Maybe the wartime world we are now living in makes us more receptive to a movie whose central theme is the use of force to achieve a greater good. And despite weak moments, Hunting of Man takes a surprisingly subtle approach to the subject. In fact tackling the machismo culture of this Latin community (there is not one token non-Hispanic in the film) along with the larger issue of societal violence gives Hunting a unique voice.
Loosely, the plot revolves around two brothers and the uncle who has taken them in. One brother is Pete (Jojo Henrickson), who's considering a columnist job to be "a Latin Dave Barry" and is the "liberal" brother. Uncle Bert (Ruben Garfias), a Los Angeles Police Department officer, despises the namby-pamby Pete. Simon (Douglas Spain), on the other hand, Bert is grooming to follow in his L.A.P.D. footsteps. The opening scene involves Bert showing a very young Simon how to kill a deer, and then when the deer ends up injured, how to execute the animal at close range. Meanwhile Simon's old childhood friend Omar (Manolo Travieso) has turned into a cigar-chomping, nasty loan shark. Omar and his buddies misbehave badly at the cinema where Simon is now manager, prompting Simon to lose his cool and kick their asses, which in turn prompts escalating tit-for-tat thuggery.
While Pete is clearly set up to be the only hope to end this violent cycle, it is Uncle Bert who turns out to be the most interesting character. Omar and his syndicate friends are rotten indeed, but how far outside of the law should the "law" go to stop them? At first Bert seems to say, as far as I want to. Simon tags along when Bert and other "official" officers nab some of Omar's friends, and Bert lets Simon somewhat participate in the arrest. One of the toughs is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, which sends Bert into a rage. While roughly handcuffing them, he shouts about how they know nothing about the thousands who the guerrilla leader had killed, know nothing about what happens in Cuba, and should never wear such an offensive image. The T-shirt boy shouts back, "Hey, I thought this was a free country!" Taking a cue from his uncle's anger, Simon -- in a burst of true brutality -- pulls out a nightstick and begins a vicious beating.
It's the turning point of the film. Bert, who up till now has been a thoroughly unpleasant character, starts to realize that he may have unleashed a monster in Simon, one who was willing not only to bend the law, but to smash it. And if there are limits to the use of force, maybe there are also limits to traditional masculine and feminine roles (in a subplot that goes nowhere, we find out that Simon's girlfriend is cut off from her family because they have had a baby out of wedlock). Too bad the film didn't run farther with all of these themes , but it's Menendez's first outing, so maybe next time.
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