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Hombres Armados Movie Review

guns fuentes lives sayles

Like Lone Star, Hombres Armados wound up on quite a few lists of Ten Best Films. As always, the filmmaker's heart is in the right place. Federico Luppi (Time for Revenge, Funny, Dirty Little War, Mayalunta, Killing Grandpa, A Place in the World, Cronos) plays widowed old Dr. Humberto Fuentes, who has spent his life teaching young doctors to go out into the villages of his (fictional) Latin American country and save people's lives. He decides to pay a visit to his students to see how they're faring. His kids tell him not to do it; a patient who's an army general tells him not to do it—but Fuentes is determined. He meets a ditzy American tourist couple (Mandy Patinkin as Andrew, who can't speak Spanish, and Kathryn Grody as Harriet, who can barely say a few Spanish phrases out of a guidebook) who ask about the newspaper reports of violence in his country. Fuentes says that there is no violence, the newspaper reports are exaggerations, and they will be perfectly safe. The clueless sightseers, who aren't looking for trouble and don't find it, are safe; Dr. Fuentes is the one in danger. At the end of his long life, he learns that he has spent his whole life training his students to be killed by “hombres armados” (men with guns: government soldiers and/or guerrilla fighters). The critique here is that Dr. Fuentes should have made it his business to learn what sort of world his innocent students were entering. So he could have done what? When? Where? To whom? I found myself thinking about Sidney Poitier as Dr. Luther Brooks and Richard Widmark as Roy Biddle in 1950's No Way Out, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The bigoted Biddle tries to kill Dr. Brooks and becomes his critically injured patient instead. Doctors save lives. They rarely have time to do anything else. When bullets are flying around them, they save the lives they can. They don't have time to investigate who the men with guns are, why the men have guns, where the men got guns, or who gave the men guns. In extreme situations, doctors don't know the histories and identities of their patients. Dr. Fuentes judges himself without mercy as he sees what his country has become and how he has unwittingly played a role in the destruction of people's lives. The more he sees, the more he feels that his life and work are worthless. Then, overexerted by his depressing journey, he dies. Who wouldn't? As John Sayles films become progressively more ambitious, their escalating thematic demands seem too large for the small, intimate pictures he chooses to make. Hombres Armados isn't a Dog, like Closet Land—John Sayles is too good a writer; but both films are riddled with humanist guilt leading nowhere. Let Dr. Fuentes (and us) off the hook for the erosion of his (fictional) Latin American homeland. Let him (and us) die in peace with the faint satisfaction that he did the best he could (as most of us try to do the best we can) on violent Planet Earth. Nuke the guns, not the spirit of the men and women who try to make the world a better place than it is. AKA:Men with Guns.

1997 (R) 128m/C Federico Luppi, Damian Delgado, Dan Rivera Gonzalez, Tania Cruz, Damian Alcazar, Iguandili Lopez, Nandi Luna Ramirez, Rafael De Quevedo, Mandy Patinkin, Kathryn Grody, Roberto Sosa; D: John Sayles; W: John Sayles; C: Slawomir Idziak; M: Mason Daring. Nominations: Golden Globe Awards '99: Best Foreign Film. VHS

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