Review by Sean Boelman
The Colombian drama The City of Wild Beasts proves that a familiar story can be effective as long as the storytelling is strong enough to work. Even though it doesn’t quite take full advantage of its potential, Henry Rincón’s film is a moving watch that comes from a place of genuine emotion.
The movie tells the story of a recently orphaned teenager who is torn between continuing down a dark path towards a life of crime or leaving the city to live with his grandfather whom he doesn’t know. It’s not the most original storyline — in fact, it’s actually quite predictable — but there’s some good stuff going on here.
Perhaps the film’s biggest issue is its inconsistent pacing. The first thirty minutes are surprisingly compelling, setting up the world in which we think the movie is going to take place, only for the film to take a drastic turn and become something much more contemplative and melancholy. It would have been nice to see a more concise direction.
Additionally, the film is relatively didactic with its messages. There are entire portions of the movie that play heavily like a cautionary tale as opposed to a character study. The indoctrination of youth into the world of crime is undeniably tragic, but at multiple points, it feels like the story is milking it to be heartbreaking.
That said, the film does a good job of making us sympathize with the protagonist, predominantly through his relationship with his friends. There was definitely more room to explore his relationship with his grandfather, although this is definitely the more standard element of the story.
The protagonist’s inner arc is also involving, even if it is mostly safe. The audience will immediately side with the character despite his bad decisions because of the situation that put him there in the first place. And the growth that he experiences over the course of the movie is one with which many people will be able to identify.
Rincón shows the most potential in this film as a director. He does some really interesting things with the camera throughout, contrasting beauty and harshness or light and dark. The rap sequences are also excellent, but it would have been nice to see them incorporated a bit more prominently.
The City of Wild Beasts isn’t a groundbreaking movie, but compelling character development allows it to be an involving watch. A bit of streamlining could have done the film some good, but there’s more than enough here to make this a necessary watch.
The City of Wild Beasts screened as a part of the 2021 Miami Film Festival, which runs in person and online from March 5-14, 2021.