I was reasonably caught up in Crónicas most of the way, but then it kind of petered out and left me unsatisfied.
I think it’s one of those movies where I read it the wrong way early, and that misdirected my focus.
The movie is a mostly negative portrayal of the role of the media—at least a certain type or segment of the media—in modern life, the way it creates and adversely affects the events it covers.
There’s no way for me to make the points I want to make about the movie without spoilers, so those will have to be a part of what I write.
Rural Ecuador is hit by a rash of murders by a pedophile serial killer. Counting incidents in nearby areas and surrounding countries that may be by the same guy, his victims run into the hundreds. He has been nicknamed “The Monster.”
Early in the movie, a funeral is being held for some of his child victims recently found in a mass grave. Among the media present are a celebrity reporter for a tabloid Spanish language television show that operates out of Miami but covers stories of interest to Latinos throughout North and South America, his segment producer (whom he’s having an affair with), and his cameraman.
In a friendly but assertive way, the reporter pressures a child to do an on-air interview with him about his murdered brother. The child goes along at first, but then seems to think better of it and slips away into the crowd. Half running and half walking, probably still preoccupied with the uncomfortable encounter, he’s not looking where he’s going and runs into a pick-up truck, which is moving very slowly if at all through the crowd.
Or maybe it’s just poorly shot and the idea is the vehicle runs over the kid. But to me it looked a lot more like the kid ran into the vehicle. Anyway, it knocks him down and through a fluke he hits his head on a rock or something and is killed.
The driver and his stepson get out of the car distraught over what’s happened. A crowd forms, having not seen the incident clearly and now trying to piece it together. The driver gets in his truck to back up away from the body to give more room. This is interpreted as his trying to escape. Led by the dead boy’s father, who has just arrived on the scene, the crowd drags the man from the vehicle, beats him, douses him with gasoline, and sets him on fire.
All the while the three people from the television show merrily film it all, working to get the best angles and close-ups and such. As the police arrive, the reporter strides into the crowd and rescues the man before he burns to death. The near-lynching victim and the father of the dead boy are hauled off to jail.
The jail is a rickety, squalid, rather informal place, where visitors and the media come and go almost at will, and the prisoners are minimally if at all protected from each other. (The still irate father beats the driver of the pick-up some more at the jail.)
The driver has a chance to speak briefly with the TV reporter. He implores him to do a story publicizing the misunderstanding that has landed him in jail, but the reporter doesn’t see it as being a particularly appealing story. Desperate not to miss what he sees as maybe his only opportunity to get this cleared up and get out of jail, the prisoner offers to trade something to the reporter if he’ll do the story.
He tells him some information about the Monster’s murders that has not been made public, which checks out. Of course he doesn’t admit to being the Monster; he tells some vague story of meeting a drunk stranger not long ago who confessed the murders and told him a lot of the details to get it off his chest, and then disappeared again.
So a cat and mouse game begins between the reporter (who says nothing of any of this to law enforcement, other media, etc., so as not to have to share the glory if he gets this story) and the prisoner. They haggle over whether he’ll talk on camera or not, whether he’ll answer questions or just say what he wants to say, how many details he’ll reveal, etc., in exchange for the televised story about his being trapped in this jail for an accident and misinterpretation that wasn’t his fault.
The reporter and his team grow increasingly convinced that the prisoner is himself the Monster.
So I’m thinking the story, the mystery, is about finding out if this guy is the Monster, and if not, what his connection is with the Monster.
Certainly there’s a good chance he is from early on. In addition to the fact that he has this information, it turns out there’s a correlation between his travels for his job and the times and locations where children went missing. When he does ultimately get out of jail, he leads his young stepson out into the woods in a clearly ominous way. (There are also a couple other clues I didn’t pick up on until I read about the film later.)
Not everything fits perfectly with the notion that he’s the Monster though. For one thing, to me his behavior near the end with his stepson doesn’t match closely at all the modus operandi he attributed to the Monster in his conversations with the reporter.
So it seems to be either building toward revealing he’s the Monster, or setting up a reversal where this is all explained away in favor of some other hypothesis. Or even a series of twists where it looks like it’s him, then just as other hypotheses are seeming more plausible, it does indeed turn out to be him.
Instead, the movie just ends.
But now as I look back on it, I’m thinking the idea wasn’t to try to figure out the identity of the Monster after all. I’m thinking the clues that the prisoner might be the Monster aren’t clues that the prisoner might be the Monster, but the movie’s way of flat out revealing very early that the prisoner is indeed the Monster.
So it’s not that it leaves that unresolved, but that it gets it out of the way early. Then the suspense—what you’re really supposed to be focused on—is whether the prisoner will say enough to the reporter to provably incriminate himself, or whether he’ll manipulate the reporter well enough to get that story aired and get out of jail without doing so. And that remains up in the air until late in the movie.
Therefore, instead of my puzzled “Yeah, but is he the Monster or not?” at the end, one is supposed to say “Ah, the Monster successfully used the egotistical reporter’s desire for a big story to escape!” I guess.
As far as the movie’s take on the media, maybe it’s purposely exaggerated for effect, but I thought it was oversimplified and somewhat unfair.
The three TV people just about let the lynch mob burn the guy to death early in the film. Even before that, they are hovering over the coffins, nudging people aside to get the best shot. Everyone throughout the movie fawns over the celebrity reporter, begging for autographs, telling him how great he is, etc. When they do the story on the dubious grounds for keeping the guy in prison, he’s released immediately.
The message seems to be that we have to realize media folks like this are in it for themselves rather than the public good, we have to stop praising them and treating them like they’re perfect, and we have to stop giving them so much power to do whatever they please.
But whom is this message for? On what planet are media figures worshipped and left uncriticized and unquestioned like that, especially tabloid reporters? My impression is that for everyone wanting an autograph from such folks, there are many people convinced they are despicable. Media bashing seems far more common than media lionizing.
The movie exaggerates the ill behavior of media figures, and exaggerates the public’s tolerance of such behavior.
Crónicas is well done, interesting, and intelligent enough to be of some value, but it isn’t one I’d rank very high.