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Review: Grim Puerto Rican drama ‘La Granja’ keeps audience at a distance

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A scene from the film “La Granja.”
(Breaking Glass Pictures)

It could be said that the relentlessly bleak crime drama “La Granja” (Spanish for “the farm”) leaves too much seen and not enough heard. That’s because this filmic triptych set in the impoverished, drug-dependent barrios of Puerto Rico eschews emotional dimension for visceral actions and thematic wallops.

Writer-director Angel Manuel Soto has much on his mind about his native island’s socioeconomic woes. But unlike such other tough-minded anthology films as “Amores Perros” or “21 Grams,” this movie’s more external approach and overly measured pacing limits our potential immersion into Soto’s gritty, provocative story.

“La Granja’s” three tales of crime-related activity overlap, sometimes more randomly than others, as an array of desperate characters journey into darkness. They include a barren nurse (Amneris Morales) who takes a heinous route to motherhood, a retired pro boxer (César Galíndez) who is training his teenage son (José R. Rolón) to win a boxing match in order to pay off a cockfighting debt to a heartless bookie (John García), and a quiet young drug mule (Henry Osso) who becomes enmeshed with his junkie stepsister (Yulianna Padilla) and her drug dealer boyfriend (Marcos Carlos Cintrón).

Striking images of sex and violence combine with an often effective sense of dread as these grim story lines unfold. But without sufficient context and psychological underpinning, less proves decidedly less.

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‘La Granja’

In Spanish with English subtitles.

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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