Amores Perros (2001, U.S. Release)

Rated R for violence/gore, language and sexuality.

Starring Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Álvaro Guerrero, Goya Toledo.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Written by Guillermo Arriaga.
Distributed by Lions Gate Films.
153 minutes.

Photo ©Lions Gate Films. All rights reserved.

Human Passions, Human Weakness

The biggest strength of Amores Perros is its display of humanity at its worst when it is driven by primal attachments. There are a multitude of characters in this set of three interconnected stories, and most of them are guilty of following the heart without listening to the head. In particular, the three protagonists, one for each story, each suffer for their decisions.

Yet, as the movie progresses, each story's respective protagonist fares better than the one before him. It's as if the message that screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro González Iñárritu are delivering is that while sins of the heart are hard to avoid, a greater sin is to not know when to let go, make a sacrifice, and move on. It is a powerful message, and it is delivered with brutal frankness in this movie. Amores Perros pulls no punches and that's what makes it so effective.

The first story is about a young man (Gael García Bernal) indignant toward his married brother's treatment of his wife. He wishes to be the young woman's savior, and raises money to fund his getaway plans by entering his rottweiler, Cofi, in savage dog fights. The second story is about a man (Álvaro Guerrero) who leaves his wife to be with his mistress, a beautiful model (Goya Toledo). However, an accident scars the model's leg and leaves her in a wheelchair. She is despondant over what this means to her career, and becomes more distressed when her little terrier Richie gets trapped under her apartment floorboards. Her lover's dreams of a better life with a beautiful woman are quickly shot to hell. In the last story, a bum-like ex-guerilla (Emilio Echevarría) who is running from his past is hired periodically as a hit-man. His only family are his dogs, which he looks after with great care. Recent events trigger a desire within him to face the life he left behind, even as he prepares for another job.

The movie bears more than a passing resemblance to Pulp Fiction. It has three major stories, each of them beginning with a title card. The stories weave and wind through each other without adhering strictly to straightforward chronology. The feel of the movie is gritty, at times suspenseful, at times frantic, and often violent and bloody. Its subjects are lowlives, people who would do terrible things for money and love, or people who do terrible things with the money they have. What it doesn't have that Pulp Fiction does is that humor that made Pulp Fiction's proceedings feel like a black comedy. Amores Perros is all serious, always observing the human condition with a sad, pitying eye.

Unfortunately, this heavy-handedness does lend itself to a melodramatic feeling that sometimes makes the film feel like a soap opera. The second story falls in to this trap more than the other two do, making it easily the weakest of the segments. Other story aspects are questionable -- while it becomes obvious that the movie wants to shred any empathy the viewer develops for the first story's lead, it seems to ask the viewer to develop sympathy for the third story's lead, a cold-blooded murderer. Despite these flaws, Amores Perros manages to be a thoughtful film on the vices of blindly following the heart. Its emotional characters and harsh images are not likely to be easily forgotten.

Rating: 8/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Dec. 31, 2001