Press materials paint La Soga as a deeply personal project for actor Manny Perez, who wrote the script drawing on memories of his childhood in the rural Dominican Republic. But the film itself bears little sign of being based on anything besides other movies. As a butcher’s son who becomes an unofficial assassin for the country’s secret police, Perez is merely impassive where he means to seem shell-shocked, stoic instead of brooding. Considering he wrote the part for himself, he either doesn’t know his strengths as an actor, or doesn’t have many.
Tearing ravenous hunks off City Of God, director Josh Crook stylizes every arterial spurt, constantly pounding home the film’s purported grittiness. Even a breaking glass is filmed in slow motion and accompanied by ominous soundtrack pounding—unless that thud is the movie hammering the same point home again and again.
During the rare gaps between killings, the movie outlines a skeletal plot, so schematic as to verge on incoherence. Perez, deadened by witnessing his father’s murder as a small child, begins to soften when he reconnects with childhood friend Denise Quiñones. At the same time, he begins to suspect that his job is more complicated than he’s been led to believe. He believes that he murders criminals to instill fear and to make an end-run around the country’s crumbling justice system, but in practice, he’s an enforcer for a general who’s as corrupt as the lawbreakers he targets. Flashbacks filled with squealing and snorting fill in Perez’s background as a trained killer (although increased rates of homicide among the slaughtering community seem to be entirely a matter of fiction), while generally purposeless cutaways to the U.S. add a touch of Law & Order.
Apart from its general witlessness, there’s nothing particularly offensive about La Soga, which Crook directs with competence, if not imagination. But it’s disheartening that a story with roots in autobiography, no matter how tentative, should end up as such an impersonal genre rehash.