Inspiration from John Wayne and Liam Neeson can’t come more than enough. Still, movies sticking to the core of a furious person searching for a kidnapped individual usually have a vivifying atmosphere. They can (usually) provide some depth to our protagonist on the hunt. The Missing feature that came out earlier this year was a wonderful reminder of how the adverse advancements in technology will come in handy for locating critical personnel. In La Civil, that atmosphere is brutally contrasting and is amplified by a terrific performance in Arcelia Ramirez.
A chilling observation of the corrupt, violent state of Mexico is a tale as old as time, but with a mother named Cielo (Ramirez) desperately trying to locate her daughter, Laura, there’s a potent balance of fragility and fidelity. The daughter heads on out to supposedly meet up with her boyfriend, Lisander. Still, when Cielo heads out later, she gets cut off by an SUV and a smug teenager, later known as El Puma (Juan Daniel Garcia Trevino), who demands 150k pesos if Cielo wants to see her daughter again. Desperate, she meets up with her estranged husband, Gustavo (Alvaro Guerrero), to help and find her daughter promptly. But, Cielo doesn’t get the answers she seeks and goes on a journey, meeting Lamarque (Jorge Jimenez) and stepping into a cycle of violence among Mexican drug and trafficking cartels.
Director Teodora Mihai emphasizes excruciatingly well from the initiation, letting us know this ain’t no lollygag joyride in the grim atmosphere of Mexico. She grabs the characters and drops them in with a steep note as the feelings of hopelessness continue to pave the narrative forward. The long camera takes, and lack of music italicize the bleak conditions, conjuring up possibilities about how much can illustrate the realities in our times with kidnapped folks and trafficked children (that go unnoticed or wind up buried). Ramirez embodies that unremitting investigation persona with such gravitas and desperation, contrasting well with her passive and light-weight husband.
The military scenes, though, feel very hollow and don’t serve many purposes beyond scattered noise and lack of tension with the protagonist’s side. And some of the later dialogue is somewhat lackluster, loosening that immense effect Mihai attempted to spread throughout the film.
Forgoing those weaknesses still showcases a rigid film with a powerful theme and authentic performance from Ramirez; La Civil is a dense, harrowing thriller to investigate.