Carlos (Manny Perez) is an aspiring comic-book artist living among many Latinos and some whites in New York City, a locus of crime whereby Carlos is made to face much responsibility. That is to say, his father Eddie (Tomas Milian) gets shot and paralyzed by a robber and Carlos must care for him (temporarily) and run Eddie’s old bodega. Exasperation besets the young Dominican as he dwells with a man–Eddie–who fails to support Carlos’s cartoonist ambitions and was often unfaithful to the dead wife he now says he loved. What’s more, Carlos is having problems with his girlfriend and scarcely treats her properly. Disorder grows; folly never stops.
Washington Heights (2003), by Alfredo de Villa, is small but potent. And humane. Villa’s Washington Heights, a section of Manhattan, is not hellish, just rough and disheartening. Even so, the film demonstrates a failure of nerve by crafting certain troubling realities and then scurrying away from them before the credits roll. Why, after all, does Carlos’s best friend, the white fellow played by Danny Hoch, become a thief and what happens to the guy who perpetrates violence against him? Villa gives the whole thing short shrift. This is very much a young man’s movie–young man-made, I mean. There is little intellectual and artistic maturity behind it.
But it is worthy. Perez is passable, Milian a little more than that. I wonder about Milian’s nuances but not his passion. Hoch is entirely true and Bobby Cannavale is forceful, even unforgettable, as a half-likable punk with money. The DV visuals are fine, and so are Villa’s scenes of bodega business and of tension between Carlos and Maggie the Girlfriend, etc. He’s a talented fimmaker, familiar territory in WH notwithstanding.