Executive produced by Spike Lee, Manos Sucias tells the tale of two brothers struggling to survive in a world drowning in poverty and endless corruption. Delio (Cristian James Abvincula) is a 19 years-old new father living in the slums of Buenaventura, Columbia. When not dreaming of making it big in the music industry, he plots ways to make quick cash so that he can quit his construction job. Jumping at the opportunity to transport a hollowed out torpedo, filled with narcotics, up the Pacific Coast, Delio is shocked to discover that his estranged older brother Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez) is reluctantly accompanying him on the journey. Unlike his younger sibling, Jacobo has no desire to move up the criminal ladder. He is only doing the job to square things with a corrupt paramilitary gang leader; once completed he plans to leave the painful memories of Buenaventura behind him and start a new life in Bogota.
As if navigating through paramilitary check points was not stressful enough, the narrative picks up when the two vastly different brothers discover that their cargo has been stolen. With the transfer set to occur at sundown, the duo only have a few short hours to find the drugs before time, and ultimately their lives, runs out.
Director/co-writer Josef Wladyka crafts a film that excels at building tension. A strong example is found in the sequence where the brothers, riding the rails on a Brujita, run into a group of guerrillas patrolling the tracks. Foreigners to that region, and secretly holding an individual hostage, Delio and Jacobo try their best to remain cool as the soldiers begin grilling them with questions. The tension is accentuated by the gripping camera work by cinematographer/co-writer Alan Blanco. Capturing life along the riverbank, including normal village activities, Blanco brings both beauty and style to the production.
Another key element in the story is the way Wladyka uses soccer to emphasize the disconnect between Afro and Latin Columbians. Characters argue over who is the better soccer player, Pele or Zico, as if the balance of a culture hangs on the outcome. The cultural divide is found again when Delio questions why Jacobo would want to move to Bogota? A place where there are no black people of note outside of the few doing manual labour.
Cristian James Abvincula and Jarlin Javier Martinez do a good job in their roles. They nicely display the growing sense of brotherhood within their characters. Through key scenes, such as when the brother sings a traditional song together, Wladyka is able to show how the pair begins to change their initial opinions of each other. Jacobo is hard on Delio, and the naïve nature of his younger brother’s generation, at the outset, but will not hesitate to risk it all to ensure his brother’s safety. Whereas Delio starts off as a happy-go-lucky trusting person, but slowly awakens to the harsh realities of the gang life that Jacobo has warned him about.
Presenting an interesting look at Afro-Columbian youth, Josef Wladyka’s Manos Sucias manages to offer a few twist and turns to its narrative. After the action picks up, and the film finds its rhythm, the audience becomes truly invested in the fate of Delio and Jacobo. Despite its slow build up, Manos Sucias is worth a watch for those interested in the region or simply looking for a captivating story.