In REDEEMER, Marko Zaror plays The Redeemer, a mysterious, drifting avenger with a thing for Catholicism. He used to be a cartel hitman, now he’s fulfilling a big time penance. He’s got a full back tattoo of the crucifixion, carries a portable altar and various idols and penants of the saints, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wears socks sewn out of a corner of the Shroud of Turin. For 95% of the movie he keeps the hood of either his sweatshirt or his jacket up. It’s not raining, so I think it’s to make him look like a monk. And every day he kneels and does a prayer ritual. The weird part of it is when he rubs a bullet with a scorpion painted on it against his forehead, then plays Russian roulette. Kind of a quirky thing to do every single day, right? I guess maybe that’s a thing though. I wouldn’t know, I was raised Presbyterian.
Anyway this individual The Redeemer is wandering through Chile on foot when he comes across some jerks beating up a fisherman. He watches for a while before he saves the guy. He’s real good with guns, but he’s Marko Zaror, so he’s also got some incredible kicks and punches. By rescuing the guy and taking shelter in the nearby home of a single mother they all end up involved in the man’s troubles: he found a bunch of money in his fishing net, he took it, it turned out to belong to gangsters, they are not real understanding about it. So The Redeemer and friends hide in a cave while he broods and prays and doesn’t talk and makes plans to clear all this up.
Plan A: Get the gangsters to promise no harm in exchange for their money back.
Plan B: Kill them all and use the money for the mom’s kid’s operation.
The villains are a much more entertaining than usual take on the typical action movie drug cartel (for a control group, see CLOSE RANGE with Scott Adkins). Their boss is a dumb gringo played by Noah Segan (BRICK, LOOPER). He calls people “buddy,” tries to always be nice and make sure his guys are having a good time, and is self conscious about not having a cool nickname like The Redeemer does. He mostly speaks English and his translator isn’t always honest about what he’s saying, causing even more eye rolls and looks of disbelief on his men than the ones he earns. He must just be some dumb rich kid who paid his way into this position and bought alot of white suits. He doesn’t seem like a guy that would act calm and then suddenly shoot one of his men in the head in the middle of the living room, but he is.
That doesn’t mean he can take on The Redeemer, and it might seem weird to have such a comedic villain against a brooding, sad hero, but it works because his men, earnestly trying at a shitty job, are more formidable than he is. Also there’s a much scarier guy to worry about, a greasy-haired, open-shirted, gold-chain-and-shades-wearing executioner known as Scorpion (Jose Luis Mosca), seen killing Redeemer’s wife in flashback, and on a killing spree in the present.
The fights, choreographed by Zaror, are excellent long take one-on-ones or one-guy-running-through-a-house-taking-out-a-whole-bunch-of-heavily-armed-thugses that feel pretty grounded even though he does the occasional backflip, 360 kick or breakdancing-style windmill to get back on his feet from the ground. This does maybe the best job I’ve seen at the current trend of adding jiu-jitsu grappling into cinematic fights. It’s like an idealized version of an MMA fight where they move through submission holds and escapes one after the other, chess style. And they put alot of thought into how he breaks down his opponents, with subjective shots to show that he’s noticing a weakness like a limp or looking at a certain side to hit him on.
He takes out a whole bunch of nameless henchmen, but there are at least three prolonged mano-a-manos with established characters, some of them bad guys that we even kinda like because we’ve seen them have to put up with that dorky gringo.
At one point there’s a plot twist, maybe obvious, but I didn’t see it coming. It’s perfect because it doesn’t really complicate the simple plot, it just changes the context of what’s going on and makes us think a little bit about audience identification in movies, especially violent revenge stories. It ends up having more layers than it was letting on, but not in such a way as to interfere with the satisfaction of a long climactic duel.
Zaror is once again working with his main collaborator Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, who previously directed/wrote/edited him in KILTRO, MIRAGEMAN and MANDRILL. Espinoza also directed an ABC OF DEATH and a movie called BRING ME THE HEAD OF THE MACHINE GUN WOMAN, and he edited THE GREEN INFERNO.
The nice thing is that Zaror and Espinoza’s movies together keep getting better. They keep looking nicer, more sophisticated in the choreography and more masterful in the way their surface simplicity unpeels to reveal subtle questioning of traditional action movie values. They don’t need to be emotionally or morally complex, so they make you think they’re not and then they sneak up on you.
They also know how to showcase Zaror’s physical characteristics – his height, his huge fists, his wide, hunched-over shoulders. And while the characters have been pretty varied (he’s been kind of goth, a Latin James Bond, a vigilante super hero) they’ve done a good job of molding them around Zaror’s strengths. He always plays very internal characters, usually socially inept, expressing himself physically instead of with a bunch of dialogue. I’ve noted before that he’s an unusually sad action hero. He’s the asskicker who’s most in touch with his emotions. I think he’s already cried in more movies than Van Damme has in his long career. In this one if he cries it’s only in the flashback of his wife’s death, but I mean, the guy almost commits suicide every day. He’s a little gloomy.
If you’re not familiar with Zaror, you might have already seen him as the villain in UNDISPUTED III: REDEMPTION, or as himself getting cloned in MACHETE KILLS. I forgive you for not remembering the second one. Anyway KILTRO is his weirdest, MANDRILL is his suavest, and now this I think is probly his best.