DIRECTOR: Camilo Vila
CAST: John Robinson, Michael DeLorenzo, Alex Meraz
PLOT: American surfer subjected to rigors of corrupt Peruvian prison in 1980
186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM wastes no time getting gritty and turning tense. An American surfer gets tossed in an infamously bad Peruvian prison circa 1980 on trumped up charges but the fact of the falsity of said charges will serve him in no good stead insofar as getting loose is concerned. In fact, it turns out the young man is leverage for extortion from his well-to-do family. But his balls are bigger than his board and he balks at cooperating, even if that would mean quicker release from his harrowing circumstances. Instead, he penetrates deep into the prison society of which he has found himself an unwilling participant, interacting with a curious cast of characters on his path to freedom. 186 DOLLARS manages to keep things grim and suspenseful without stripping the story of all hope, as with some prison cinema. Viewer interest is engaged quickly. The story hits the ground running, throwing us and our poor surfer right up against the corrupt law enforcement officials whose cruelty doesn’t stop at false imprisonment; physically injuring abuse is not out of the question, as demonstrated early on. The film’s brooding jazz score is very welcome and tremendously effective. It reminds one of how Bernard Hermann’s compositions could totally shape the tone of the films he scored. The acting is also solid, and the characters are written well without excess resorting to stereotypes. 186 DOLLARS TO FREEDOM goes for character-oriented storytelling rather than “exploitation” brutality. Not that 186 has no brutality, just that it’s not torture pornish. There’s a lilt of hope behind all the ugliness in the film, and it’s got heart. Cinematic skill, thoughtfulness, believable acting and more coalesce in this suspenseful drama; it’s among the better prison films out there. Sure, it’s no Papillon, but, still, it’s good stuff.
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