Argentine director Pablo Trapero fashions a gripping, fast-paced story centred around two priests who minister to a sprawling slum outside Buenos Aires, and who fall victim to the violence they are trying to combat with love.
The opening scene of a nocturnal massacre of villagers in Amazonia by paramilitary troops is an electrifying piece of film-making. One of the few survivors is the Belgian priest Father Nicolas (Jérémie Renier), whom Father Julian (Ricardo Darín) tracks down in a village hospital, wounded and emotionally devastated. He takes him back to his mission in the heart of a vast shanty town, one of the most dangerous in the country, where a war is in progress between two drug lords. Overshadowed by the hulking skeleton of an unfinished hospital, the padres work side by side with spunky social worker Luciana (Trapero regular Martina Gusmán), who catches the eye of young Father Nicolas.
A handful of sharply drawn characters punctuate the story. Local gang wars and shoot-outs are followed by police incursions and street battles, keeping the temperature high and pacing tight. Michael Nyman’s sweepingly majestic score lends an epic dimension, which feels right alongside the straightforward passion depicted by an evenly balanced, top-drawer cast.
Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter