Herod's Law

Herod's Law

1999, R, 120 min. Directed by Luis Estrada. Starring Damián Alcázar, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Leticia Huijara, Salvador Sánchez, Alex Cox, Eduardo López Rojas, Isela Vega.

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 5, 2003

Herod’s Law starts out with a bang. The bongos-and-brass score and its visual counterpoint – a fat, sweaty dude with fistfuls of money is decapitated by a torch-wielding mob, all in gorgeous 1940s sepia – suggest south-of-the-border capering reminiscent of Touch of Evil. Enter the protagonist, hapless public servant Juan Vargas (Alcazar), whose arrival in the flea-bitten rural village of San Pedro de los Saguaros slows the film to a more deliberate pace. Hand-picked by the despicable governor (Armendariz) for his stupidity, the bow-tied and obsequious Vargas transforms from ineffectual stooge to paragon of corruption – in other words, a successful politician. Along the way, he encounters a hard-bitten panderer (Vega), a moralizing doctor (Rojas), a greedy priest, and other broadly drawn allegorical figures; cult director Cox (Sid and Nancy) turns up as a wayward American who helps Vargas plunder his jurisdiction before absconding with his wife. As with too many social satires, everything is written in capital letters here, lest we fail to appreciate the thievery and dishonesty of the PRI. Estrada makes his point perhaps too well. Vargas’ transformation is so sudden and so thorough that he seems like a complete caricature – not a well-meaning idealist tempted by power, but a little dictator who quickly cottons to the titular notion: Fuck or be fucked. (Much of this action occurs in the town’s brothel.) These shortcomings, along with a needlessly slow pace and excessive length, keep Herod’s Law from greatness, but Estrada is certainly a committed and unflinching satirist. Certain moments of the film are deliciously savage: A lovely traveling shot displays a line of browbeaten peasants handing over their livestock as taxes; moments later, one of these pigs will be greedily lapping its master’s blood off the floor. Ultimately the film is nihilistic; as one character declares, "This country has no solution." It’s too didactic to be a spaghetti Western but lacks the moral compass required of a more evolved philosophical statement.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Luis Estrada Films
Un Mundo Maravilloso (A Wonderful World)
...

Feb. 27, 2021

More by Marrit Ingman
Wonder Stories
Wonder Stories
Books

July 25, 2008

King Corn
The film’s light hand, appealing style, and simple exposition make it an eminently watchable inquiry into the politics of food, public health, and the reasons why corn has become an ingredient in virtually everything we eat.

Nov. 9, 2007

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Herod's Law, Luis Estrada, Damián Alcázar, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Leticia Huijara, Salvador Sánchez, Alex Cox, Eduardo López Rojas, Isela Vega

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle