Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inhale - Baltasar Kormakur's Harrowing Morality Tale

150,000 people are being trafficked all over the world for their organs annually. In America alone, about 240,000 awaits for their life saving organs, and this “industry” has become lucrative. But the fact is, acquiring such organs isn’t a walk in the park. It goes through a coterie of tedious examinations, medical “politics” and – well – red tape. Then there's the staggering financial requirement to consider.


Young Chloe (Mia Stallard) doesn’t have much time to wait. One of her lungs is about to collapse, and time is a palpable ticking time bomb. Paul and Diane Stanton (Dermot Mulroney and Diane Kruger, respectively) are out of their wits finding that specific donor for their frail daughter. Despite their financial capability, the official list has Chloe far from the priority, and Paul, a high profile lawyer, is getting desperate. When he hears of a rumor that has a colleague James Harrison (Sam Shepard) getting taken off the list for a “heart”, he pursues Harrison who initially denies such ruse. With Paul’s persistence, he learns of an illicit operation in Mexico.

So Paul takes his bag of money and braves the menacing border town of Juarez seeking for a Dr. Martinez who’s curiously plying the underfoot monopoly – but Martinez seems to be a sinister ghost. No one seems to know him. Along Paul’s expedition, he gets mugged, blackmailed, sexually abducted by a transvestite – but he wouldn’t budge. He will snag a pair of lungs for Chloe – even if it kills him! With the help of a street urchin, he finally traces Aguilar (Jordi Molla), the town's slimy chief of police. For $200,000, the ball rolls towards his goal. He calls Diane to take Chloe to Juarez for an immediate operation. Has Aguilar found an appropriate donor?

On the day Paul was to leave town to see his child elsewhere, he bids the gang of street children who has been helping him around the treacherous neighborhood. He “bribes” each kid and talks to a young one everyone calls “Little Shrimp” (Camaronito). But before he drives away, a charging bike runs over the child, hitting “Little Shrimp” down. An ambulance suddenly appears and takes him away. Paul’s nagging suspicion eventually takes him to a hideaway where “Little Shrimp” lies unconscious on an operating gurney, the young boy’s chest splayed open, ready for a “lung extraction”. Meanwhile, Chloe is waiting at another hospital for her new lung. It was time for Paul to decide for himself – would he do the right thing, and in the process, lose her daughter?

I’ve always loved Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur’s works – mostly shown in film festivals and art cinemas abroad. In fact, I’ve seen several of his works – “101 Reykjavik”, “The Sea”, “A Little Trip to Heaven” (with Julia Stiles and Forrest Whitaker),; even the ones where he appears as an actor in “Me and Morrison”, “No Such Thing” and “Devil’s Island”. I was mostly surprised to find “Inhale” set in North America and Mexico. You see, a lot of world cinema's brilliant directors usually fail when given a North American flick to direct.

Fortunately for Kormakur, the narrative is a compelling drivel that has you rooting for Paul who has to go through so much just to have this "secret association" agree to get his daughter a lung - only to find out much later the grim twists of his wishes. The movie ultimately puts to test the moral fiber of the viewer. If you were in Paul's shoes, what would you do? It is indeed a dilemma to be judgmental knowing what you know, but sometimes, reality bites you like a thief in the night.

I have issues with the movie's conclusion. I won't say what it is, but it is a little dubious. On the whole, it is a smudge in an otherwise laudable film making effort.

I have heard of Juarez before. In fact, I've seen it featured in a travel documentary where the host of the show actually gets harassed by a mob of conniving taxi drivers. I've reviewed this documentary here. Juarez is the epicenter of lawlessness in Mexico and the crime center of the country where bandits, corrupt cops and desperation share a landscape of chaos.

Kormakur's ensemble is a solid cast, but most of its narrative pulse hails from Mulroney who's in most scenes. Kruger does well as the impetuous mother who continually goads her hubby to "do something". It was upsetting when Paul was trying to tell Diane how the organs are "harvested", but Diane just quips, "Don't tell me. I don't wanna know." I would personally choose to be cognizant of everything I come across with. It is how I make my decisions - informed consent, thus making me aware that every action has moral repercussions; then I have to live with them for the rest of my life.

Paul and Diane consults with their doctor (Rosanna Arquette)

Harrison shares his secret with Paul.

Dermot Mulroney

Dermot Mulroney plays Paul Stanton

Diane Kruger plays Diane Stanton

Diane Kruger

Diane Kruger

Diane Kruger

Director Baltasar Kormakur (left) and actor Jordi Molla (right) : they might as well be brothers. Kormakur will come out with "Contraband" next year, starring Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale. It's a remake of his film "Reykjavik-Rotterdam" (2009) where Kormakur also acted.

Jordi Molla - He was in several great films ("Jamon Jamon", "Flower of my Secret"). Now he has done countless mainstream features.

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