Heli (2013) Review

Worth seeing ... but only for a select audience.

by Martin Hafer

Heli was the official submission from Mexico for the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Picture, though it was not selected to be nominated.  It also received the Best Director award at Cannes.  And, it’s finally coming out on DVD.  But should you see it?  Yes…and no.  For the right persons, it might be worth seeing…though for most folks, I don’t think so.  This is because although the film has a very simple story and it’s told with minimal emotion and very low energy…and punctuated, on occasion, with extreme violence….among the most extreme I have ever seen in a film.

Heli is a hardworking young man with a wife, a child, a sister and father living with him.  He has a good job working at the local assembly plant and his life is pretty ordinary.  Little did he realize that due to his very young sister’s infatuation with a young thug, his entire family would be torn apart in the space of only a few hours.  That’s because his sister’s boyfriend is an idiot…an idiot who stole a couple kilos of cocaine from a local gang and hid them at Heli’s house!  And soon, both the gang and some very corrupt cops arrive and decide to teach them all a lesson.  What follows is a very vivid scene of extreme torture…so extreme I won’t go any further.  Suffice to say it is not for those with a weak stomach.  What follows is how Heli deals with all of this.

The film is interesting because it shows the horrible side of Mexico we don’t often see in films..and probably should here in North America.  Drug gangs are a scourge…encouraged by consumption of all these drugs north of the border.  But in the film the federal police whose job it is to stop these gangs are often shown as being as violent and soulless as the gangs…and sometimes are in league with them.  I applaud the movie for talking about this unholy alliance.

Unfortunately, the film also has quite a bit working against it….primarily, but not exclusively, vivid torture.  Safe to say, most folks don’t want to see that!  Additionally, the minimalistic acting style is a problem.  When folks aren’t doing horrible things to each other, often the characters (Heli in particular) are almost zombie-like with their lack of emotion.  There also are a few rough edits and the film has a look that is a bit rough as well.

Overall, it’s a real mixed bag.  I wanted to like the film much more than I did.  Toning down the horrific violence would be a good start at making it a better movie.  Sure, you need to know how vicious and awful the gangs and police can be…but you also don’t want to see every excruciating detail.

Martin's Grade: C-


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