A thriller about the narcotics trade between Morocco and Spain, "El Niño" tracks the intrepid and enterprising Niño (Jesús Castro) as he, along with accomplices Compi (Jesús Carroza) and Halil (Saed Chatiby), takes up trafficking to accumulate the capital needed to open a tourist-trap bar.
Meanwhile, hard-nosed detective Jesús (Luis Tosar) and partner Eva (Bárbara Lennie) have been hot on the trail of a ruthless criminal known as the Englishman (Ian McShane) in a hopeless attempt to collect incriminating evidence.
It's only a matter of time before the parallel story lines intersect so that the mules get mixed up with the Englishman. But first, Niño redeems himself by falling for Halil's sister, Amina (Mariam Bachir), and promises to go straight after one last job. Heard that one before?
This familiar tale of the globalization of criminal enterprise has been plopped down in the Strait of Gibraltar and slapped with subtitles. Director Daniel Monzón delivers a conventional genre exercise — albeit a very effective one, with twists and turns that manage to surprise.
Adroit veterans such as Tosar and Eduard Fernández (as Jesús' colleague Sergio) inject a layer of complexity in stock bit roles. It's the humanity in their performances that ultimately makes us care.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.