Todo el poder is a Mexican satire dealing with the high levels of crime and corruption in the country, and in the capital in particular. It does so by trying to employ dark humour and a certain amount of absurdity.
Meet Gabriel, an independent (and, of course, poor) Mexican film maker. He is a mild-mannered sort of guy, regularly berated and admonished by his ex-wife, but adored by his daughter. And since he is so likeable, his landlady is extremely patient about all that back-rent he owes her.
So far, Gabriel not only had bad luck in regards to his marriage and his career – he has also a lot of bad luck when it comes to being mugged. Now, one in three people in Mexico City have been the victim of a crime, the film tells us, and many of them even twice. But Gabriel, a reasonably young man, has been the victim of five or six muggings already. More bad things happen to him than happen to Homer Simpson, as his daughter Valentina puts it.
Gabriel, like most average citizens, is increasingly fed up with the high levels of crime, the inefficiency of the political and administrative system, and the corruption amongst the police and the judiciary. But while most of his friends are beginning to accept this kind of reality as given, Gabriel tries to take on these ills through his work. Needless to say that this will bring him into conflict with the corrupt power-brokers.
You might say, that – on a meta level – the filmmakers behind Todo el poder are trying to do the same thing as Gabriel: addressing these social ills through their work; in this case, by using the power of satire.
The film has been written by Enrique Renteria and Carolina Rivera, and directed by Rivera’s husband Fernando Sariñana. And their daughter Ximena Sariñana plays the role of Valentina.
The team has been most fortunate in their casting choices. There are a number of fantastic actors in this film. In addition to Ximena, Todo el poder sees excellent performances by many actors, especially Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight) as Gabriel and Cecilia Suárez as the love interest. Great supporting performances are given by Juan Carlos Colombo and Claudia Lobo amongst others. Diego Luna (Star Wars alumn, and director of Mr. Pig) hs some very enjoyable scenes in a minor role that serves as comic relief.
If I had to criticise any of the performances, it would be that of Luis Felipe Tovar. His performance feels like over-acting to me – potentially fitting for a similar film with a slightly different overall tone, but not really fitting here. He is obviously a good actor (with a great screen-presence), and it should have been the director’s job to guide him differently.
Speaking of the tone:
Whenever a violent crime takes place in the film, the portrayal as well as the camera-angles chosen (including scenes in which witnesses/victims film the crime as it is being committed) create a claustrophobic atmosphere which has the effect of causing the viewer some distress. A way for the filmmakers to try to convey a small portion of the stress felt by victims of crime.
Unfortunately, this style has an unsettling effect that allows reality to overshadow the film as a work of art. Because, in some ways, this is a comedic plot and it has elements of a heist as well as elements of a con film. And were this a Scandinavian film, for example, then it could be made very enjoyable, with lots of absurdity, levity and humour. But as this is a Mexican film, and as the crime is portrayed in a sort-of realistic manner, the humour (which this film undoubtedly has) mostly falls flat: the anger and immense sadness one feels regarding the crime levels in Mexico and the daily suffering of ordinary citizens do mar the enjoyment of this film, as the occasional laughter the filmmakers are going for basically dies in your throat.
Todo el poder hails from the year 2000, and we all know that the situation in Mexico has become even worse since then. This film wants to highlight these problems, but in doing so it makes it hard for the viewer to enjoy the story: reality is always so strongly on your mind that you have a hard time immersing yourself into the film and give the plot your full attention.
I am not sure if the filmmakers could have done anything to avoid that situation. Maybe giving the film a more farcical tone, making it less real, lowering the stakes – but then it would not have been the film the team wanted to make.
In general, the story does not flow along as easily as it should. There is a fake opening which leads into a farcical first scene and then introduces us to Gabriel and his job. But all of this represents a rather slow and stuttering start, and overall the first act just seems too long. As does the film as a whole, at over 100 minutes running time. Tightening some scenes (especially in the first act) and bringing this film closer to 90 minutes would have helped to give the film a more suitable pace.
Amongst the things in the film that appear odd, or unpolished, are a very short and superfluous scene that takes a dig at the Catholic church and the somewhat tacked-on ending.
The scene involving the church is far too short and unconnected to anything else in order to work as legitimate social criticism, dilutes the message of the film, and robs the story of its momentum at that point.
The narrated coda that in some ways changes the ending of the film leaves the viewer with the impression that the filmmakers may have had a change of heart and that this narrated passage was chosen in hindsight in order to change the outcome of the story. But that is only my interpretation; it is entirely possible that the story had always been intended to end in this way.
Despite some weaknesses in the pacing and the narrative flow, I would rate this film at 7.0 to 7.5 out of 10, especially thanks to the outstanding performances by the actors. 17 years on, this film has lost nothing of its topicality – which in some ways is good for the film, but it is also very, very sad.