Thursday, October 21, 2010

INHALE: Iceland's Baltasar Kormákur tackles Mexico's thriving organ trade

With 101 Reykjavík (2000), The Sea (2002) and Jar City (2006), Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur proved that he could handle odd family dramedies and a dark thriller with equal aplomb. Transplanted to America, he has stuck with the dark thriller motif that always centers, as did all his home-base films, around family. 2005s A Little Trip to Heaven was set in Minnesota, a place sometimes cold enough to pass for Iceland. Now, with his new film INHALE, the locale has shifted to Mexico (New Mexico stands in for the real thing), but the change of climate does not seem to have slowed down the movie-maker to any great extent.

The writer/director, shown at left, has cast his movie with a nice array of international talent: Germany's Diane Kruger (two photos below), Switzerland's Vincent Perez and Spain's Jordi Mollà) join our own Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard and Rosanna Arquette in this tale of a husband and wife (Mulroney and Kruger) whose little girl has a disease that only a new set of lungs will cure. But, as usual, there's just not enough organs to go around. What to do? Psssst!  Ever heard of the third world?  So of to Mexico, where life is cheap and organs are plenteous, goes our intrepid hero, whose desperation to save his daughter at all costs is paramount to our buying into some of the less believable aspects of the plotting. You may do it ( I did), but barely. The onus of the movie's credibility is placed squarely on the broad shoulders of Mr. Mulroney, shown below, and the actor comes through in fine form. As the remaining days and hours disappear and his child's life grows more precarious, the character places himself in the kind of jeopardy that only a situation like this might call for.

Kormákur begins his story toward the end, and then flashes back and forth until we've arrived at that beginning again, moving on to its difficult conclusion. Mulroney's day job is as an upright, if not uptight, prosecutor for the state, and his ethical standards do seem, as they would need to be, rather high. This will figure heavily into the mix as the conclusion approaches.

Something else that figures into things is the movie's Mexican setting: Juarez, the city in which those many Mexican women have disappeared and/or been murdered. Missing women and the illicit trade in vital human organs: a connection, perhaps? The movie does not push this, yet its theme and location taken together are enough to start the ball rolling.

Before long desperate Dad is up against everyone from thuggish goons to the local police (headed by Mollà, above) and a clinic doctor who clearly looks down on Americans searching for illicit organs. He also comes into contact with a sexy and beautiful bar hostess who gives him more than he bargained for (in several ways), as well as a group of street kids (below), a couple of whom, if warily (and for money, of course), offer their help.

Making their mark via small but strong performances are Arquette, as the family physician who bends over backwards -- and then some -- to help out, and Shepard, below, as Mulroney's mentor with his own dirty secret. Kormákur has given us a thought-provoking movie about first-world entitlement using third-world resources. His ending revolves around choice. I'd have preferred Dad to make a different one, which I think, given the circumstance, would have been more believable. Either way he'll have to live with it,
and it ain't pretty.

Inhale, via IFC Films, opens in theaters this Friday, October 22 (here in NYC, it screens at the IFC Center), and is playing simultaneously from IFC On-Demand. Click here to access it.

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