Critics' Pick

Water & Power (NR)

Drama May 2, 2014
By Ernest Hardy
A lyrical, often drolly funny cautionary tale about power and corruption that nods to the Bible, Chinatown, and classic r&b, all from the cultural center of East L.A., Water & Power filters big questions about race, masculinity, spirituality, political power, gangs, and real estate through the prism of Latino culture. Its staggering ambitions are largely realized. Based on the 2006 play of the same name by Latino political comedy troupe Culture Clash, and adapted and directed by member Richard Montoya, the film spans one life-altering night in the lives of twin brothers Gil, aka Water (Enrique Murciano), and Gabe, aka Power (Nicholas Gonzalez), a senator and cop, respectively, who were groomed by their city worker father to be L.A. power players.

For Gil, that means navigating back-room deals; for Gabe, it's being a police office of dubious integrity on a force as proudly thuggish as any street gang. After Gabe assassinates a high-ranking gang member, forces high and low come for his head, with Gil forced to compromise his political career to save his brother. It's a layered narrative full of flashbacks (sometimes mere hours; sometimes years) and laden with symbolism (only with the running motif of a lost deer does the symbolism become heavy-handed).

Crammed with cool cameos (the late Lupe Ontiveros, Wanda de Jesus, Roger Guenveur Smith) and anchored with taut performances by Murciano and Gonzalez, the film's real star is its heady wordplay. From the cool voiceover to the crisp dialogue, the script strikes the perfect balance between stylized and naturalistic language that is profane, poetic, and prophetic.
Richard Montoya Nicholas Gonzalez, Enrique Murciano, Emilio Rivera, Robert Beltran, Wanda de Jesus, Jacob Vargas, Lupe Ontiveros, Roger G. Smith, Clancy Brown Richard Montoya Mark Roberts Olmos productions

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