Profugos Poster (Photo : HBO Latino)
"Profugos" is Chilean TV series that tells the story of four men who become fugitives after a drug trafficking deal goes awry.
The series is set up as 13 episodes, but only two were screened at the New York Latinos Film Festival. The choice to show two rather than just one was actually a brilliant one on the part of the programmers as the two episodes complemented one another quite well. The first was packed with one action set piece after another while the second episode toned down the adrenaline to give the characters a bit more life.
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As the first episode begins, the audience is immediately introduced to four characters in a police chase and one of them is badly injured. The sequence is rather jarring and awkward and while the story eventually cuts back in time and brings us back to this point, the scene feels less organic and more like a necessity to establish the genre. From that point on the story drops back three days to establish how the characters wind up in this mad chase. Here the busted drug deal unravels methodically until hell breaks loose in the final half of the episode.
The second episode brings us to the aftermath of the drug bust and furthers the plot by bringing in an arsenal of new characters including a team of two police officers on the case, another set of mafia members, and the family of the main characters. During this episode, the story takes us into the consequences of the heroes' actions and tragedy strikes right away. This episode was not as flashy with spectacle but was clearly the more compelling of the two. There was one awkward scene in this film after one character experiences a tragic moment. Director Pablo Lorrain opts for silence in this scene but then has his character continuously snort coke to help cope with his pain. The scene starts off being emotional, but with the constant repetition of the coke snorting, the scene almost becomes clumsy and unintentionally comic.
However, two episodes captivate with strong pacing and tremendous performances. Francisco Reyes, a veteran Chilean actor, is the most noticeable screen presence as Oscar Salamanca, a former revolutionary who has an estranged relationship with his daughter and is suffering from an illness that was not fully delved into. Reyes has a weary walk about him and the long greasy hair and beard help reveal the broken man, but Salamanca proves to be astute and also has some pretty incredible combat skills.
The other three main characters are filled out by veteran Luis Gnecco, Nestor Cantillana, and Benjamin Vicuna. Gnecco's Mario Moreno comes off as a grumpy man throughout but reveals the most vulnerability of the quartet. Vicuna is rather reserved and subdued throughout as an undercover cop, but he did not get much in the way of back story until the very end of the second episode. Cantilla plays the son of the drug queen who is currently in jail. He was the least impressive of the four, but to his credit, he got the least amount of screen time or real substantial material that tested his character.
After Reyes, Marcelo Alonso stands out playing Agent Marcos Oliva who could scare anyone with his fierce glare. And despite the terror he instills, one cannot help but feel entranced by his cool demeanor that is almost akin with Daniel Craig's James Bond.
One of the only real missteps that I found with the opening two episodes was the music employed throughout. Sometimes, it was perfectly melded with the action to create a cohesive unit. Other times it supplemented the story. But there were too many moments where the music not only did neither, but it took you out of the story due to its awkwardness and over sentimental nature. One particular suspense sequence in a bathroom stands out. During that scene Vicuna's Alvaro Parraguez has just sent a text to the police about where the drug deal will take place. He is found by a former friend who he then beats up to cover his image. As he hides the man, Salamanca comes into the bathroom to spy on Parraguez and we get a bouncy theme in the background that almost kills the tension rather than accentuate it.
The cinematography is splendid throughout with the day shots noticeably better than some of the underlit night ones. But the one issue I did have with the visuals is that Larrain and his team over use the zoom-in technique. It is one thing to have dirty frames, jarring movement, rack focuses, and zooms throughout sequences that require that chaotic camera movement. But to employ it during a quiet scene when one character has just had a conversation with his wife? Shortly after introducing Moreno's wife for the first time through a quiet phone call, Larrain chooses to do a quick zoom out of a closeup on Moreno that is simply jarring and awkward in the context. This happens throughout and could get rather tedious and annoying.
Despite these minor gripes however, the show is clearly off to a good start and there is a strong sense of balance from Larrain and company. If the rest of the series follows up on the balance between character and action of Episode 2, then the show will live up to the standard that HBO has set for itself with past series. If not, there should be some strong action for viewers to enjoy.