Rojo, written and directed by Benjamín Naishtat, is an old-school crime-thriller of the breed that isn’t made very often anymore. It tells the story of an Argentine lawyer in the 1970’s whose seemingly life begins to unravel after a shocking encounter with a mysterious and aggressive drifter.
Very rarely does an old-school crime movie like this get made any more, and Naishtat should be praised for the level of energy and artistry he brings to his storytelling. However, despite his efforts, the film doesn’t ever come together as you would like. There is definitely a ton of potential visible on screen, but it just isn’t expanded upon.
The first third of the movie is absolutely brilliant. The suspense in this portion of is high and you are hooked into the story. However, there is then a time jump, and after that point, the film loses much of its narrative steam. The pacing in the latter two thirds is much less deliberate and more meandering. Although there are still moments that catch your attention, they aren’t as frequent, nor as effective, as they are in the introduction.
The best comparison that comes to mind is last year’s similarly paced South Korean thriller Burning. However, unlike Burning, this movie starts to falter towards the end because the thematic threads aren’t as consistent. It is much more difficult to figure out what Naishtat wants to say with his film, perhaps because the narrative gets particularly messy around the end of act two.
That said, Rojo does contain some good character work. The protagonist, Claudio, is complex and nuanced, and although he isn’t particularly approachable, he is nonetheless a compelling character from afar. Granted, some of his decisions are frustrating, but that makes him feel all the more realistic.
Darío Grandinetti does an excellent job in his lead role as Claudio. He brings the quiet emotion to the role that is able to really sell the character to the audience. It would have been easy to play the character in an over-the-top way, but Grandinetti’s subtlety goes a long way. On the opposite end of the spectrum but equally impressive is Diego Cremonesi’s supporting performance which is wonderfully exaggerated.
Naishtat’s visual style is also pretty brilliant. Even towards the end of the movie, when the narrative inconsistencies become more cumbersome, his style shines through. The film is undeniably beautiful to look at, from the gorgeous compositions to the period detail and the phenomenal use of color. It’s just a shame that the pacing isn’t a tad bit tighter, as this could have easily been one of the best thrillers of the year if so.
Rojo looks great and starts off strongly, but it ultimately gets off-track midway through and is unable to recover. Still, Naishtat is obviously a very talented filmmaker, and whatever he does next is sure to be an exciting prospect.
Rojo is now playing in theaters.