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Movie Review: Chiko at the Glasgow Film Festival 2009

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Chiko is a crime film that's as uncompromising and realistic as you could hope for; drugs, guns, sex, violence, death, betrayal… it's all here and the film doesn't shy away from showing any of it. But what makes it acceptable is that it condemns these acts rather than condone them. But through its relentless desire to be one of those violent crime films it sometimes comes off as imitation rather than embodiment.

Chiko tells the story of a young wannabe drug dealer who yearns to have the respect and power that some others possess. But when he is hired by a drug lord to get rid of a large amount of weed in just ten days he soon discovers the troubles and perils of the way of life he so much wants to be a part of.

Chiko is never an easy film to watch, never flinching away from the violence or drug use that plague the story. And it's in this way that the film earns respect simply because it doesn't shy from the reality of these situations. When a drug deal goes bad, for instance, where the buyer attempts to steal the drugs we see the horrifically violent confrontation in all its bloody detail, including someone getting their head splattered on a nearby wall. The film is an intense journey into the dangerous world of drug use and drug dealing, showcasing the violence that inevitably comes along with it.

The film has been described as "the German Scarface," but it doesn't quite live up to that claim and that's just a quoted line of praise to draw in potential audiences. Just because it's a crime film involving drugs and the quest for respect and power doesn't automatically make it the foreign equivalent of a crime classic. That's not to say Chiko doesn't work well — it's just no classic.

When a film's title carries the main character's name it obviously paints them right off the bat as an important and perhaps iconic figure. And although Chiko certainly won't go down in film history as an iconic character to enter pop culture notoriety, within this story he's someone we can latch onto and even care for in some sort of twisted way. He's not just another criminal thug hungry for money, drugs, and power but a real human being who makes mistakes like all of us. His strong attachment to his friend Tibet provides much of his motivation for many questionable acts and this provides what is the strongest aspect of meaning and moral to it all.

Denis Moschitto, who plays the title character, is both likable and believable as a man tempted by things that are understandable given the circumstances. From a simple description of the character – tough, goal-minded, more level headed than most of his fellow drug dealers – could he have been played by just anyone? Perhaps, but the added elements of emotion and meaning call for much more than simple attributes and Moschitto provides the much needed believability and emotionality to make it meaningful.

Popular German actor Moritz Bleibtreu (who you may recognise from the likes of Run Lola Run and The Experiment) plays the drug lord who sets the film's central story into motion when he hires Chiko. Although billed higher on the credits than his limited screen-time rightfully warrants, he almost steals the movie during the the time he is on screen. He often plays the good guy caught up in situations beyond his control. Chiko allows him to be the guy with the power, the one to be feared and answered to (an early scene which sees him hammer a nail into the ankle of Chiko's best friend Tibet tells us this straight away), and he plays it brilliantly. Apart from the many shocking raw and visceral scenes, Bleibtreu is what is most memorable about the film.

Although it may seem contradictory, despite the film having a plethora of elements (such as drugs, guns, violence, and sex) that make it a through and through crime film it often tries too hard to be part of the genre. It overuses loud, often out of place rap music, the dialogue is at times unrealistic and forced and this often becomes an annoyance. For the most part the film succeeds in being what it aims to be but some of the time it tries a bit too hard.

Rife with clichés the film may be, but because of its uncompromising nature and backbone of moral issues, including betrayal and the value of human life, any unoriginality can be easily overlooked. And although its story and where we end up may be a bit on the predictable side, Chiko is nonetheless a harrowing journey into the heart of the dangerous world of drugs.

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About Ross Miller