Continuing the unofficial gritty street drama motif that seemed to be this year’s unofficial Slamdance 2000 theme, “Rata, Ratones, Rateros” introduces us to Salvador (Marco Bustos), a young Ecuadorian street punk. Content to pull hubcap bait-and-switch level scams and other such petty thievery with his friends, Salvador’s insular world is shattered when his cousin Angel (Carlos Valencia) arrives in town. A fast-talking con artist who’s good-natured on the outside, Angel’s actually a ruthless and hard-bitten con man; a killer with a bounty on his head interested only in his own survival. Burdened with a bored rebellious streak, Salvador helps Angel against his father’s orders, only to have the two-legged rat repay him by sucking him, his friends, and the rest of his family into the potentially lethal sewer of his world.
This grim look at Latin American street life by Sebastian Cordero is, if anything, even more depressing than its American counterparts — and far less glamorously depicted. “Rata, Ratones, Rateros” takes quite a while to get rolling and even longer, burdened by the additional handicap of subtitles, to figure out who’s who and what’s what. There are also numerous pacing problems throughout — 107 minutes means plenty of excess that Cordero could have trimmed — and the film’s ending, while appropriate, is highly abrupt and unsatisfying. On the other hand, Valencia’s Angel powers this film. He really is a rat; an intense, feral bottom-feeder who remorselessly consumes everyone with whom he comes into contact. His presence somehow makes “Rata…” seem far more believable than other similar films, with some portions having an almost documentary feel to them. If, as suspected, this is an accurate portrayal of Latin-American street life, that truly makes “Rata…” one of the more depressing films of the festival.