Last Stop 174

Last Stop 174

***

Reviewed by: Chris

The number 174 bus may well forever be remembered as the most famous hijack in Brasil. National television gave it hours of live coverage, Rio de Janeiro police desperately tried to free hostages and the ordeal was imprinted on the national psyche, much the way 9/11 is on America’s.

I did once experience an attempted hijack in Brasil. Coming off a slip road from Presidente Vargas - the same Rio city freeway where part of this film is located. About 20 young kids, none of them more than 12 years old, charge our fast-moving vehicle. They run head-on towards us in a v-formation, attempting to make the bus brake hard or crash. It’s 2am. I’m on my way back to the apartment after late night carousing. Passengers rise in their seats, transfixed. We wait to see what the driver will do. Instead of stopping, he accelerates towards the children. It resembles a game of dare, but with deadly intent. The phalanx of charging youngsters scatters at the very last minute. Sighs of relief. If he had stopped, the chances of being robbed at gunpoint would have been high.

Copy picture

The famous 174 incident ended in bloodshed. It was made into the documentary, Onibus 174, which did rather well, and also inspired this film a feature thriller that culminates in the same event and has much to live up to.

Our action starts with Alessandro, rudely ripped from his mother’s breast (quite literally). The gangsters that grab him violently are owed money by his coke-sniffing mama. Young Alessandro (Sandro for short) is soon old enough to wield a gun. His life intertwines with another boy called Sandro as they grow up on the streets, doing coke and doing time. They survive by armed robbery and dealing drugs. A close shave with an infamous street massacre, just off Presidente Vargas, sees several children gunned down. Between the bloodbath of juveniles and the bus hijack, weave tales of maternal longing, desperate glue-sniffing, jailbreak and prostitution. Meanwhile, Church and NGOs fight to save souls among such unworthy miscreants.

As a straightforward action movie, Last Stop 174 is gritty and entertaining. The pace doesn’t let up, and the central characters give a convincing demonstration of Brazil’s brand of smooth-talking hustlers. But does the film have more to it than just box office returns? Our young actors do well - on many an occasion - but at other times seem noticeably stretched. It seems a good enough story; yet is really a collection of interlocking pieces rather than a smoothly flowing whole. The actual hijack is a relatively short segment at the end of the film - and it left me a little underwhelmed.

I had been very much looking forward to Last Stop 174. Yet, on viewing, I felt it had little new to say. In fact, very little to say at all. Additionally, my sympathies are moving towards some of the more art-house –type directors from Brazil. Ones that deplore the way their multifaceted country is depicted as a violent, third-world outback.

You could imagine the anger if the bulk of mainstream film from the UK, for instance, portrayed nothing but Trainspotting and underbellies of drug orgies and football violence. The Rio city centre carnage should be shocking - since such things normally only happen, when they do happen, in underprivileged favela slums, not in the midst of a teeming financial district. But this film sadly gives us no context to draw such contrasts. We see mostly only slum boys, sleeping on pavements and selling their heavily-cut coke. Characters outside their world of the dispossessed have little more than walk-on parts.

The plot is overcomplicated by having two boys of similar names. And there is confusion rather than mystery over who is the real mother. The mishmash results in a lack of momentum for the main storyline. This should be Sandro’s boyhood, culminating in a botched robbery and hijack of bus 174.

Not that there aren’t fascinating details. Con-tricks used to steal a Copacabana woman’s handbag or an ingenious ruse for the mass egress from prison, when they scam and overpower guards and staff. Earlier, Sandro loses his virginity at a tender age to a prostitute he promptly falls in love with. Patchy performances of inspired intensity outweigh an attempt at a sustained ensemble endeavour. From the opening scenes (which have genuine shock value), the drive towards a finale is uneven at best. The film’s target audience is unclear, being too well-trodden for many mainstream viewers and lacking the subtlety demanded by art-house crowds. Last Stop 174, if not quite grinding to a halt, never manages to make a smooth transition through its gears.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2009
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Story of a homeless man who hijacked a bus in Rio.
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Bus 174