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Dogwashers 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Carlos Moreno
Stars: Jose Marino Angulo, Juan Martin Arancedo, Anderson Ballesteros
Netflix movie Dogwashers is not your father’s narco-gangster movie. It’s an offbeat ensemble piece from Colombian director Carlos Moreno, who achieved some Sundance recognition with two previous films, Dog Eat Dog and All Your Dead Ones. Where many such genre films portray the lavish lifestyles of drug lords, Dogwashers shows one on the downside of his career — aging, all but powerless — and, uniquely, from the perspective of his many subordinates. It strikes a dark-comedy tone and banks on its audiences’ willingness to indulge a little bit of schadenfreude, because sometimes, feeling good about someone else feeling bad makes one feel a little bit better about not being a lying, cheating, sometimes murderous sociopath.
The Gist: Tulua, Colombia. A sprawling concrete manse. It’s starting to look a little worse for wear. Mossy. Green pool. Overgrown jungle of a garden. It absolutely reflects the moral rot of its owner, Don Oscar (Christian Tappan). A bloated, aging gang boss, he desperately needs a haircut and a diet-and-exercise regime. His wife Claudia (Isabella Licht Delgado) has big plans for the garden and some interior decorating, but he puts the kibosh on it — just wait until he gets this one thing behind him, he says. That one thing is a big thing, of course, and I don’t think she quite knows anything about this thing, which is Dubernay (Marlon Perez Cruz), the young upstart narco who’s making some major power moves. Dubernay just had El Pecoso (Jaime Andres Castano) macheted, and guess who’s next. Oh, Don Oscar could maybe get the guy off his back if he paid up a longstanding debt, but there’s all kinds of idiotic psycho bricabrac getting in the way, like pride, denial, ego, pigheadedness. You know, the stuff that makes a man a pathetic man, especially when he has no ethical ground to stand on and a swimming pool full of tadpoles.
Don Oscar’s staff remains loyal, for now. He has a couple standard-issue greasy henchmen in Fredy (Jhon Alex Toro) and Milton (Anderson Ballesteros), and one simple goliath of an enforcer, Bobolitro (Ulises Gonzalez). Don Oscar chastises Bobolitro for bathing the dogs when he should be keeping an eye on the two guys next door who are “working on the house” but are blatantly, obviously cops staking him out. Their housekeeper, Rita (Hatsune Takegami), sneaks off to smoke a joint with the gardener, Yoiner (Kevin Andres Munoz), and air out their grievances. How’s Rita doing? “I’m here,” she says, “doing housework.” Freddy drives Don Oscar to a doctor’s appointment, where the screenwriter god puts karma to work: he learns he has “small sperm” and “watery semen” and that’s why Claudia can’t get pregnant. He needs a boost, so he loads a rock into his crack pipe, then stops to see the escort he’s banging on the side, and bangs her on the side. Then he learns that Dubernay is coming for him, so he and Freddy ditch town without telling anyone.
As the next couple days progress, we get to know the ancillaries quite well. Bobolitro goes to church and bellows HALLELUJAH terribly out of tune; later, he visits an aging prostitute who we soon learn is also his girlfriend. Milton tries to hold things together at the house; he has a secret. The two cops next door continue their stakeout, bored as hell; they’re obviously several steps behind, because they’re staking out the guy who should have been staked out long ago. Claudia frets about Don Oscar, who never came home last night; she has a secret too, involving a doctor appointment of her own. Yoiner just wants to earn enough money to get his motorcycle out of hock; he backs up his battered old truck in the garden and accidentally knocks over a statue of the Virgin Mary and looks into the broken pedestal and finds a black sack full of cash and meanwhile Don Oscar hides out and gets whooooooooaaaaa effffffffffed upppp on his way to maybe, possibly, a place of humility and a solution to his debt situation and the plot, as they say, thicks.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Dogwashers is a post-Tarantino work, but instead of aping Pulp Fiction with its nifty soundtrack, camera angles and peppery dialogue, it progresses past the referential nature of such things and roots around in the true essence of character. It also sniffs some of the tropes of narco-thrillers like Blow, American Made and Scarface, then takes a step or two forward and to the left.
Performance Worth Watching: It’s difficult to choose a standout among this collection of consistently strong performances — Munoz is very good as the quietly frustrated underdog, Gonzalez quite convincingly sells a third-act shift in character and Toro shows equal capability for comedy and menacing cruelty, sometimes in the same line-reading.
Memorable Dialogue: Two standouts from Don Marco: “Sometimes it’s your life or everyone else’s.” And, “Ask the Virgin for the money.”
Sex and Skin: Female toplessness; semi-explicit coitus in orangish and reddish mostly darkish lighting.
Our Take: Yes, this thicks. Thicks like gravy slow-simmered on the stove and patiently whisked to a savory density by Moreno, who isn’t content to just buy the canned stuff. Thematically, Dogwashers — named after slang for the low-level “employees” in the drug-dealing biz — mucks about in the usual you-reap-what-you-sow live-by-the-sword/die-by-the-sword fodder of many such films where sympathetic protagonists are in short supply. So it’s somewhat derivative, and it concludes in the predictably unpredictable way in which the dark nature of man emerges and you just know many guns will be emptied of their bullets, although you’re not quite sure who will be on the receiving end of those bullets.
But Moreno’s direction is patient and detailed, and the writing — by Antonio Garcia and Pilar Quintana — is exquisite, weaving comedy into the tone without offering any bald-faced jokes. OK, the conversation about Don Oscar’s watery semen isn’t exactly subtle, but this is where we laugh at a low blow to a character’s vile masculinity, and then recoil at how his poison psyche responds to it. And yet, I don’t think the film necessarily intends to make any grandiose statements about the tyranny of evil men any more than Tarantino did; Pulp Fiction was refreshing in its resistance to easy moralizing. Moreno takes his time building suspense, lets us get to know these people and their happinesses and tragedies and neatly subverts a genre trope or two, intentionally or otherwise. Some of the best stories just rummage around in character and setting and let the chips fall where they may, and if it’s a little messy, well, at least we don’t have to spend our time charting plot contrivances.