Los Bastardos (The Bastards) Amat Escalante

Los Bastardos (The Bastards) Amat Escalante
The story of two undocumented Mexican day labourers moonlighting as one-time hit men-for-hire, The Bastards is visually exciting, with director Amat Escalante throwing in enough static long takes to sate devotees of Bruno Dumont or Bela Tarr, but relies too crucially on caricaturing and heavy-handed moralizing to inspire anything other than the occasional eye roll. The film's first act, which follows a group of migrant workers loafing around a Home Depot parking lot, is strong, oscillating between richly textured, Altman-esque dialogue between the Mexican illegals and the pregnant silences that hang heavy as they ride shotgun with gringo employers. But the whole thing heads south when our two reluctant protagonists, Jesus (Jesus Moises Rodriguez) and Fausto (Ruben Fausto), break into a suburban home to murder a heroin-huffing housewife (Nina Zavarin). Where similarly nihilistic home invasion narratives of the past couple years (Ils, Haneke's Funny Games films) have rendered their perpetrators' motivations eerily ambiguous, The Bastards makes no attempts to stymie Jesus and Fausto's bottom-line motives. In Bryan Bertino's The Strangers (2008), one of the titular intruders responds to the question of "Why are you doing this?" with a chilly "Because you were home." Here, Jesus answers the same question with a simple "For the money." There's no time for evasiveness in Escalante's America, where labour exploitation, xenophobia and suburban hypocrisy are invariably symptoms of the late capitalist drive for that almighty dollar. It's this sort of graceless righteousness that sinks Escalante's film - one scene has Fausto watching a COPS-style show on a television set framed by a Nintendo and long-defunct NES Zapper gun accessory, an image as blunt and obvious as the multiple shotgun blasts to the head in the film's predictably brutal dénouement. The disc itself is as sparse as Escalante's aesthetic, offering nothing beyond English and French subtitles. (Mongrel Media)