Screener Review: REDEEMER (2014)

Former hitman Nicky Pardo (Zaror) has made a deal with God. Pardo will begin every day by holding a gun to his own head and pulling the trigger. And every day he does not die he will take it as a sign that he is meant to continue hunting down the men he used to work for.


By no means are your options limited here, particularly if you are a fan of the martial arts genre and always looking forward to something great to see. This was a lesson learned in my own evolution as a follower of these films while growing up, and as time passed, more and more talent has continued to emerge and drawing the attention of fans almost everywhere. Obviously this couldn't be possible without the evolution of the internet, a tool that generally removes almost all boundaries so people can share a piece of themselves with the world. Actor and martial artist Marko Zaror is one of those people, hailing all the way from Santiago, Chile with a breakout lead role in the first Chilean martial arts action film, Kiltro in 2006. The film would be his first pairing with then-debut director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, and eight years later with three under their belt, the two have come back once again with a vengeance for their newest hit, Redeemer.

Zaror plays Nicky Pardo, a suicidal former hitman, layered with internal suffering and grief, and desperate to atone for the sins of his tragic past. He resides quietly, living each day in God's hands with a loaded pistol that was once left for him to use at the behest of notorious cartel enforcer, The Scorpion (Jose Luis Mosca). Loaded only with one bullet, the pistol represents one half of Pardo's personal deal with God in deciding whether or not he lives or dies before setting out and unleashing his own brand of swift, gruesome vigilante justice. Meanwhile, Steve Bradock (Noah Seegan), an amibitious, eccentric druglord is eager to stake his claim in town, and the only thing standing in his way is a lost bag of cash thanks to unsuspecting Augustin (Mauricio Diocares) who is brutally beaten by a group of thugs in search of it. Eventually, Pardo rescues Augustin and applies his deadly skillset when confronting them, an act that unfortunately puts the two, along with good samaritan neighbor, Antonia (Loreto Araveta) and her son in harms way. Now forced in hiding from a ruthless cartel and a lost bag of money at stake, Pardo's intentions ultimately turn this newest and dangerous mission into a pivotal milestone on his journey toward self-discovery and possible forgiveness. Little does he know that his past demons could come back to haunt him, and it may be very well be too late to find the redemption he seeks.

Redeemer is a well-acted movie with some fantastically written characters and solid action sequences to boot. It paces back and fourth between flashbacks that peel open just a little more between some of the film's key moments as we observe the torment underway in Pardo's daily life. Here is where some good acting comes in on behalf of Zaror who continually impresses many fronts. And no worries about the action either, as Zaror is as sharp as ever when attaching his signature choreography, fast twitch techniques and steady ground game, accompanied by co-stars Nelson Nuñez and Boris Smirnow, and Morca - the latter whose dialogue scenes are few and far between, but a scene stealer nonetheless.

Most of the other principal performaces were great to see, including that of Aravena whose scenes with Zaror, as well as a few with Diocares, greatly proved to be some of the most feel-good and important moments during the film in its thematic evolution. Plus, Aravena is undeniably easy on the eyes, in looks as well as her on-screen delivery. Segan, who also produced the film, definitely lends a sense of comedic charm to his evil aura in the role of Bradock, a fish-out-of-water Gringo South American wannabe drug kingpin. His scenes are darkly funny and well-delivered, enhanced in part by the supporting role of cocky translator Ringo, played by Daniel Maraboli. It certainly offers just the kind of wit and levity you would want to see in such a film that reflects hugely on religiosity and vengenace, and some copious amounts of bullet casings and gore.

Espinoza did a great job of polishing this script and making it deliver where it counted most while telling this story the way he and his team saw fit. I saw myself wondering just what kind of film this was going to turn out to be from start to finish as I payed close attention to all the drama that unfolded, and there are a few moments midway through the third act that may leave you guessing about the overall direction of the choices are made by these characters, uncertain if this is really as simple as pitting a good guy against a bad guy as we are just discovering him by the end. It's a good sense of uncertainty though, and it isn't too long before our questions are finally answered.

I will say that there were just a few slow spots and a couple of annoying moments throughout, but they were very minor and never take away from the film in the least bit. The fights themselves contain some great execution and timing to accompany many of Zaror's aerodynamic feats which are always more likely than not to satisfy the average martial arts action fanboy; There's at least one particular finishing move in the middle of the film that had me cringing so hard that cussed out loud, which is definitely something I usually do when in a room full of exuberant theatergoers behaving the same way.

Having filmed just this year, Redeemer intially arrived in time for its entry into Fantastic Fest only last month, and while subsequent reviews have been mixed, the overall sentiment has been largely positive. On top of gritty storytelling, a bit of whimsical comedy and riveting drama by much of the cast, Zaror deliver the goods while executing action scenes with such comprehension and finesse that it is easy to see why genre fans love him so much, and perhaps a little more difficult to understand why he hasn't become a bigger star sooner. Although perhaps, it was only a matter of time before the world would be truly ready for a man whose remarkable martial arts prowess and on-screen charisma would deem him on the world stage as "The Latin Dragon". And if you didn't know then, you know now!

Zaror's next two projects will be a starring role in One Good Thing with Yayan Ruhian under director Kimo Stamboel, and hopefully, the new Latin American superhero comic book thriller, Zambo Dende. In the meantime, stay tuned for more news on Redeemer and a trailer for the film coming soon.


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