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This Man's Dominion Review from Dark Horizons 9/20

Review #1

El Diablo is the latest offering from director F. Gary Gray and stars Vin Diesel who seems to be making a lot of films at the moment. This, however, is a much darker film than his previous ones and shows him in a different light. There are a couple of spoilers, but nothing that isnt blatantly obvious!

The film starts at a party thrown by Guillermo 'Memmo' Lucero (Geno Silva), the head of the largest cartel of drug dealers across the Mexican/USA border. Hes a man of whose connections and bribery has offered him near immunity from prosecution in Mexico.  A team of heavily armed DEA agents who arrest Memmo and disrupt his organisation rudely interrupts the party. This bust is the result of seven years investigations by two agents, Sean Vetter  (Vin Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks  (Larenz Tate).  

After the arrest of Memmo, Sean returns to the US and to his wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors) to relax and recuperate.  

Memmo is now in prison in the USA and as a result his cocaine empire is coming under threat by the enigmatic El Diablo, a coke dealer who no one seems to know anything about. Diablo attacks all the dealers who work for Memmo, resulting in everyone being forced to come to him for their cocaine. Unfortunately, he also orders a hit on Sean as he sees him as a threat; the man who brought down the mighty Memmo. During the assassination attempt, Stacy is killed and Sean hospitalised. 

After he recovers, Sean launches a war against Diablo with the help of Demetrius and some friends. However, how do you find a man that lives in the shadows? And whom can you turn to for help when your own people close their doors to you?  

El Diablo (or just Diablo as it might have a slight title change) is a change from the characters that Vin Diesel normally plays. His character, Sean, is not an extreme sportsman or a serial killer with night vision or someone whos larger than life. Hes for all intents and purposes a normal guy he doesnt do anything superhuman and as a result is quite believable. Diesel does a good job and has the opportunity to expand his acting abilities. This is the closest thing hes done to show the human side of his characters since Saving Private Ryan and is surprisingly good. Larenz Tate as his best friend, Demetrius, plays yet another streetwise guy (wheres he been since the excellent Menace II Society?) 

The script does tend to jump around a bit, with people disappearing from the USA to Mexico a lot, which does end up a little confusing at times. The direction by F. Gary Gray shows some real character depth and motivation. Its interesting to see such detail as hes only done a handful of films, including The Negotiator and Friday. He does cater for theerrdiscerning male viewer, as there are quite a few semi-clad nubile women popping up during the film for no real apparent reason! Also there are no real surprises when the identity of Diablo is revealed; this is no Keyser Soze, so as a result the ending is a little weak. 

Overall, El Diablo is an entertaining enough film even though its quite dark at times. It could have been so easily hashed into yet another cop TV-movie but manages to alleviate itself to a higher peg by good performances and direction. It also shows that Vin Diesel can act and that Saving Private Ryan was not a fluke (even though his was not a major role in that).


SCORE 7/10 

 Review #2

When's the last time we had a gritty, hardcore R-rated, widescreen action flick? Everything nowadays is either PG-13 or overly glossed up crap with masturbatory director flourishes(Swordfish). El Diablo isn't perfect, but it's a fucking diamond compared to the watered-down stuff we get these days.

It's basically about cops taking down a drug lord in Mexico. The hook is that the cops, played by Vin Diesel and Larenz Tate (Menace II Society) are young hip ex-gangbangers who can do what the old square cops cannot. But instead of taking the market-researched, nu-metal, "middle aged dad trying to connect with his son" route that xXx took, El Diablo clearly takes its inspiration from Heat, Casino and other serious crime epics!

Oh, it's got lots of modern slang and "big" entertaining characters, no doubt. But all of it comes off very naturally and subdued much like Training Day. As if the director and cast were intimately familiar with the lifestyle (ok, maybe Diesel is a slight bit awkward) instead of just learning it for the movie.

And the gun battles! Sweet. Obviously inspired by the realistic, hard-hitting shootout in Heat. You know, short burst, machine gun action, no John Woo fantasy moves. Right now, the editing doesn't achieve Heat's heights (which managed to be hard-hitting and edited very tightly while simultaneously being very clear) - the action scenes are a little hard to follow. But even then, it put a big smile on my face to see a film try to pull it off.

The R-rating allows for a lot of swearing and (cue Chris Rock voice) "Titty! Titty! Titty!" And even more booty. Ah.

Story and dialogue-wise, it's not genius. But again, I want to stress the subdued way everything is handled. It just makes things a lot easier to take, rather than hitting you over the head with Travolta-esque hamminess.

To summarize why El Diablo is cool:
1) It's a young hip film that seems inspired by Heat and Scorsese instead of other young hip films. How cool is that? A *gritty* kickass action crime movie.

2) It's R-rated and makes full use of the rating.

3) Hardcore gun battles.

4) A cool fucking cast. Larenz Tate and Timothy Olyphant own this flick. Many other familiar-looking character actors do nice work as well. Larenz Tate needs to do more films!

5) A nice visual style, both in the cinematography and the designs of some sets/costumes. Basically realistic but pushed a bit toward the more cool-looking stuff. eg, check out the half face masks on Tate & Diesel in the opening scene.

Parts I didn't like so much:
1) Vin Diesel delivers some of his dialogue quite awkwardly. Fortunately, he has the right intensity and charisma to pull the role off anyway.

2) The film seems about 30 minutes too short. It needs to expand more on the drug operations and culture. That would take this thing into epic Scorcese crime flick territory.

Anyway, can't wait to see the final version in theaters!