A SHOW OF FORCE

DATA and CAST

I appreciate that the politics of Puerto Rico in its long and troubled relationship with the United States are beyond my ken.  I am taking no sides in the following comments, but merely reporting on a film.

A Show of Force (1990) as cinema is pretty much of a turkey.  It’s one of the more confusingly edited pieces of celluloid I’ve seen in a long time, but in spite of itself something plot-like does emerge.  It pits the wicked U.S. Justice Department, the F.B.I., and the island constabulary against the pure and righteous independence movement. As I say, this is not my own setting of agendas, only my understanding of the film’s Manichean polarities. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t — this cinematic narrative does not confuse us with ambiguities but remains utterly committed to its valorization of the independence movement.

Amy Irving as reporter Kate Melendez comes across as Nancy Drew, journalist.  But she’s a nineties kind of gal, a working mom, raising adorable kids, correctly trilling her r’s in the pronunciation of Puerrrto Rrrico. Two Independistas are suckered innocents led to the slaughter by manipulative politicians, leaving behind a distraught father and tearful young wife with child. Kate’s sympathy for the cause is based in no small part on her identification with the husbandless mother and her dead husband’s legal representation of the cause.

The police, by contrast, embody the tired clichés of the corrupt and cruel gestapos of undemocratic (but anticommunist) countries south of the Rio Grande.  This is all so we won’t get confused about who the good guys are.  But the location photography is often gorgeous.

There is a nice moment when the reporter visits one of the police thugs at a cockfight, the impassioned slicing at each other of the two cocks being an obvious if graphic metaphor for the politicians — kind of like crowing cocks you put your bets on.  Personally I think all those macho types come across more as strutting peacocks — all colored wings but not much lift — but that’s just an independent observation.

Not that it makes much sense as film, but the action clearly kicks into gear in the second half, the official hearings into the demise of the idealistic students.  The courtroom drama is exciting, and the conclusion is more than satisfying.  Given the comic-book transparency of the story’s moral wrappings, I felt like cheering when the F.B.I. guy’s arrogance blabbered forth proof of a government complicity that the hearings had failed to elicit.

Good triumphs over evil.  Isn’t that what we like in our political morality plays?

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