Its plot can be opaque and its characters often too remote and inscrutable to embrace, but “Guilty Men,” Colombia’s official Oscar entry for 2018, remains an absorbing, visually gripping crime-thriller from writer-director Iván D. Gaona.
Set in 2005 in rural Santander as the Colombian government was attempting to demobilize its paramilitary troops, the film follows four shady collaborators — trucker (and sometimes DJ) Willington (Willington Gordillo), his cousin René (René Díaz Calderón), the elderly Alfonso (Alfonso López) and pig owner Heriberto (Heriberto Palacio) — after their handover of protection money, meant for the paramilitary, takes an unplanned detour.
Allegiances among these “guilty men” quickly begin to shift and fray, with another suspicious local, Suetonio (Suetonio Hernández), ratcheting up the uncertainty and dread.
Augmenting the tension, but in deeper, more human ways, is the rivalry between Willington and René over Mariana (Leidy Herrera), Willington’s ex-girlfriend who’s now pregnant with René’s child and about to marry him. Willington and Mariana share several welcome — and authentic — moments of poignancy.
Cinematographer Juan Camilo Paredes proves a key player, with his superb lensing of a kinetic chase across a sugar cane field a definite highlight.
Edson Velandia’s original score, as well as the ranchera and norteña songs (debated “Pulp Fiction”-style here) that thematically factor in, also add much to the proceedings as do the credible, naturalistic performances by a cast of newcomers.
In Spanish with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills