“Cronicas” attacks the rather alarming transition from TV news to entertainment, in which the only important parts of reality are those that will play well. Writer/director Sebastian Cordero (1999’s “Ratas, Ratones, Rateros”) follows a story that is sometimes surprising and engaging and sometimes preachy and obvious as he observes poor economic conditions and human suffering and how TV journalists use it as a tool.
Set in an impoverished Ecuadorian town, John Leguizamo plays an investigative journalist named Manolo who reports for a sleazy, Miami-based Spanish TV show called “An Hour with the Truth” that focuses on scandals like the Monster of Babahoyo, a serial killer who murders young children. Manolo’s form of journalism is one that makes him into a hero, bravely investigating a story or saving a man from lynching despite the trouble from the incompetent police department. This posturing, however, is more important than the justice his TV personality claims to uphold.
A bible salesman named Vinicio (Damian Alcazar) who is almost killed and goes to jail when he accidentally hits a child with his truck, appears to be intimately and suspiciously close to the Monster of Babahoyo, and will give Manolo information if he helps him get out of jail. This sets up an interesting cat-and-mouse game between the two men as they try to gain an upper hand in their dealings.
While elements like these are interesting, the film is not without its flaws. “Cronicas” sometimes goes a bit over the top to make its point, like when a cameraman slightly moves parents grieving over their dead children so he can get a better shot. And plot points like an affair seem to be added simply to beef up the story, which loses some of its focus as the film progresses.
But the core scenes involve Manolo’s fascinating game as he positions himself to not only solve the mystery, which he does fairly quickly, but get the story and the glory by doing a job that he thinks he can do better than the police. Leguizamo and Alcazar are riveting together as the prisoner tries to use Manolo’s show to his advantage and Manolo tries to maintain his trust. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that the real trust in question is that between him and the viewing public.