To Kill a Man

Jorge (Daniel Candia) is a happy, middle-class family man until street thugs begin to infiltrate his tranquil neighborhood. When he encounters one particularly vicious thug, his son tries to protect his father and get back his stolen insulin kit. This unleashes a reign of terror on Jorge and his family and police officials do nothing to help them. The now-miserable Jorge is pushed too far and he decides to take matters into his own hands “To Kill a Man.”

Laura's Review: C+

Television director S.J. Clarkson ('Eastenders') and Oscar nominated screenwriter Lee Hall ("Billy Elliot") have made a very odd little movie based on English food writer Nigel Slater's memoir 'Toast: The Story of A Boy's Hunger.' The aggressively nostalgic production design is like the world of 'Wallace & Gromit' come to life and the action is punctuated with the kind of goofy visual sexual metaphors the 'Austin Powers' movies were so fond of. The film's first half, which chronicles Nigel's love for his mother, is lovely but it's second half, dominated by Helena Bonham Carter's harpy of a housekeeper Mrs. Potter, is perversely sadistic. The whole movie celebrates food and charts Slater's homosexual awakening. Young Kennedy, who is much more expressive than his older, more famous counterpart, doesn't overplay his hand as the nine year-old boy shows an unusual interest in cooking. Gazing at pork pies in a case, he's told by his mother that they are 'too common' and she won't even think about his request for fresh cheese, but she does indulge his desire to make spaghetti bolognese when he shows her that the sauce comes in a can. His father (Ken Stott, "One Day"), whom Nigel describes as 'not sweet' (the man's always bellowing, but is not without feeling), will have none of it. Nigel's enamored of their gardener, Josh (Matthew McNulty, "Control," "The Arbor"), who tells him about growing things and lets him know it's alright to sit in the rain. There's a homoerotic but innocent undertone to the friendship, but when dad gets wind that his son saw the young man naked (when changing into work clothes), Josh is expelled. Then mom's asthma becomes increasingly worse. She rallies one day to keep a promise to teach her son how to make a mince pie, but dad had forgotten to buy the mince and she's gone the next day. Nigel thinks his worst fear has come true, being left alone with his dad. His school friend Warrel (Frasier Huckle) explains the old adage about a man's stomach and Nigel makes a touching attempt to cook his dad's favorite dinner on the one night he comes home late after it's ruined. But just when there appears to be a father-son connection, enter Mrs. Potter, a chain-smoking cleaner from the council estates who has a habit of exposing the tops of her stockings as she scrubs and whose cooking is everything Mrs. Slater's was not. Nigel's horrified when dad starts running around with the married woman and the two begin to wage war over him with competitive cooking. After the affecting portrayal of Nigel's mother by Hamilton, Bonham Carter's Potter comes across as monstrous, making it hard to buy into Mr. Slater's fascination. The film almost becomes cartoonish. There are still moments, such as Nigel's dance with his mother's dress and dad's reaction to finding him with it, but the film has turned to black comedy of the not often funny sort. Still, the filmmakers do succeed in cataloging how two very different women shaped a boy's career in very different ways. The film, which played on BBC1 in Britain, wouldn't be considered a TV movie in the states. There are subtleties like the school milk line which Nigel rejects, the two pupils who vy for his unwanted bottle (scene stealing Kia Pegg and Rielly Newbold) and the humorous underlying rationale to who gets it. Soundtrack selections are 60's gems. Production design and costume are eccentrically stylized. Nigel Slater himself appears as the head chef of London's Savoy Hotel in the film's last scene. But the two 'name' actors, Highmore and Bonham Carter, are the film's least appealing elements. Bonham Carter's Mrs. Potter may be predatory, but she gives the character an air of desperation which makes the film's protagonist seem cruel rather than triumphant at film's end.

Robin's Review: C+

Chilean writer-director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras tells a story about a man, Jorge, and his family, who believed, until now, that they live in a safe and secure neighborhood. That changes when the thug, Kakule (Daniel Antivilo), after mugging Jorge, shoots his son, Jorgito (Ariel Mateluna), who had just celebrated his 18th birthday. For his heinous deed, Kakule gets a mere two years in prison. When Jorge and his family begin getting threatening phone calls, obviously from Kakule, they once again go to the police and demand a restraining order. But, a loose cannon like Kakule will not be deterred by a mere piece of paper. He chooses Jorge’s daughter, Nicole (Jennifer Salas), as the next target in his terror plans. This proves a bridge too far for Jorge and he takes matters into his own hands to protect his family. The story of a father’s revenge in order to protect his family has been around for many years and in many guises so “To Kill a Man” covers familiar ground. You root for, and sympathize with, Jorge and his primal need for survival and protection against a more powerful, brutal enemy. You also loathe Kakule, who shoots himself after gunning down Jorgito to make the attack look like “self-defense. “Just desserts” is one phrase that comes to mind about Jorge’s motives in vengeance against the monster. Director Almendras does an economical job in telling his original story in under 90 minutes without making the film feel rushed. He takes a straightforward approach to his tale of a man pushed too far but, still, way over his head in his revenge. You should, and do, feel his anger and frustration in just wanting the constant terror to end. (“To Kill a Man” is Chile’s entry for Best Foreign Language film for the Oscars.) I give it a B-. The DVD release of “To Kill a Man” is sparse with its few extras. There is an interview with the director that goes on too long, if the increased fidgeting of the interviewer is any indication. There is also a trove of deleted scenes which consists, mostly, of long shots of Jorge waling through the forest or on the beach. I can understand why they were deleted. Also included are theatrical trailers of the film But, there is one unexpected oddball “treat” within the extras: a bonus short film called “Our Blood,” about a half brother and sister who meet each other on a remote Bison ranch. It may not seem like much but I could not stop watching this strange story of incest.