The Zero Hour
Details: 100 mins, Venezuela,
Synopsis: In Caracas, Venezuela, a hitman takes his injured girlfriend to a hospital during a medical strike. To save her life, he takes the few remaining staff hostage.
Stock hostage-drama piles on the action.
there is no denying that Velasco knows how to wield an action-movie camera
LATIN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL: In November of 2005, the moribund Venezuelan film industry kicked into gear with the announcement of an initiative aimed at fostering local talent. The Film Villa Foundation was formed and a studio complex created to help Venezuelan filmmakers craft indigenous works that, in the words of President Hugo Chávez, countered Hollywood’s predilection “for portraying Latin Americans as violent criminals, thieves and drug traffickers”.
I don’t think The Zero Hour is exactly what Chavez had in mind.
In Diego Velasco’s breathless piece of action melodrama, a steely-eyed gang leader, Parca (charismatic hip-hop star Ruben Zapata, aka ‘Zapata 666’), blasts his way into an understaffed hospital demanding that a full-term pregnant woman (Amanda Key) with a gunshot wound be saved. His conditions are not negotiable; a hired killer with ruthless henchmen by his side (most menacingly, the terrific Laureano Olivares), Parca is a man of few words and many bullets.
But the medical establishment is on strike and only a skeleton staff is on hand to administer care. Dr Cavo (Erich Wildpret), a young resident who’s been on duty for 48 hours, becomes Parca’s first hostage and they form an uneasy bond. In what seems like a split second, police and gawkers, many desperate for their own medical attention, have surrounded the besieged hospital; Parca takes on a Robin Hood-like persona, swapping hostages for onlookers who otherwise need unaffordable care, until police politicking forces an outcome.
A huge box-office hit in its homeland, Velasco’s Dog Day Afternoon/Die Hard mash-up is certainly high on violent energy; barely 30 seconds into the film, a wild car/bike chase winds through the streets of Caracas, complete with a backseat-birthing mum and blazing automatic weapons. But the practical manifestation of this energy leaves a sour taste. In line with the ‘urban gunslinger’ iconography of Zapata’s hip-hop roots, violence against the system is portrayed as a means to personal and social redemption and staged with a coolness that strives to make the brutality palatable.
Support characterisations are entirely of the kind usually seen in these types of films from all corners of the globe; no one country has a lock on hostage-drama tropes, such as the feisty reporter seizing a big break (here, it’s Marisa Román’s soullessly ambitious Veronica Rojas) or a cop-in-charge (Alejandro Furth) whose authority is challenged by an image-conscious City Hall.
But if the smaller details are overly familiar, there is no denying that Velasco knows how to wield an action-movie camera. His set-pieces, which include more than one fully-immersive gun battle, are top notch and the sense of jeopardy he creates is tangible. As the plot begins to spiral into the ridiculous, all pretense that The Zero Hour had to say something important vanishes, and the young director slams his cinematic foot to the floor. It will put him in good stead if Hollywood calls – but again, it’s not quite the outcome Chavez had originally envisioned.
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