Dir: Sebastian Cordero. Ecuador-Mex. 2004. 107mins

Here comes the next LatinAmerican candidate for Hollywood glory: Ecuador's Sebastian Cordero. His tough,gritty, uncompromising first film, Ratos,Ratones, Rateros (known in English as Rodents)- about punks, thieves and petty criminals living in the streets of Quito - didthe festival rounds several years ago, landed quite a few awards and was asurprising hit on home turf, where domestic cinema is practically non-existent.

Working from his ownNHK/Sundance-awarded script, Cordero has had tutoring by such establishedcelebrities as Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro, his producers here, whoprovided him with a hefty $3m budget (the biggest ever in Ecuador's history).Cordero has put together a tight, professionally packaged crime story that maylack the star power needed to go all the way to the top, but will no doubt getplenty of screen exposure, followed by long-term bookings on the smallerscreen.

The theme emerging behindthe story of a Miami TV crew dispatched to Ecuador to unearth a paedophileserial killer may not be that original - once again the cynical, amoral mediabetrays its duties - but this fast paced yarn won't allow itself to be botheredby such details.

Manolo (Leguizamo), a starreporter for a popular Miami TV show entitled An Hour Of Truth, is downin Ecuador with his producer Marisa (Watling) and cameraman Ivan (Yazpik). Hehopes to unearth a serial killer who has been terrorising a small town,Babahoyo, maiming, sexually assaulting and then murdering young children. Abible salesman, Vinicio (Alcazar), almost lynched by an angry, hysterical mobwhen they see him inadvertently hit a boy who had actually run into his car,offers Manolo a deal.

In exchange for a favourableTV report that will show he is not to blame for the accident, he will revealsecret information about the killings that nobody else has. Sniffing a majorscoop, Manolo goes along with the deal, though he suspects Vinicio himself ofbeing the culprit. To keep his side of the bargain, however, he has tointerfere with the law; he takes decisions that will fatally affect others, helies and cheats and then has Marisa pull strings to stay out of trouble, andultimately is far more concerned with his own career than he is with the caseitself or with the people whose lives depend on it.

Inspired by a couple ofsimilar Latin American cases in the last few years, Cordero's scriptpractically gives away the identity of the killer in the film's openingsequence. Cordero prefers to focus the rest of the time on the character of theborderline schizophrenic killer, who never quite looks or behaves like one.

The film's major theme,however, often and better explored in the past (from Billy Wilder's Ace In The Hole to Billy Ray's recent Shattered Glass, to mention only two outof countless examples) is the conduct of the media, arrogant, cynical, alwaysready to sell out its principles for fame and profit, weighing human conditionin terms of popularity ratings.

If Cordero, however, will beon his way to Hollywood, it is not because of his script but thanks to hisincisive, highly charged direction, already evident in all its intensity duringthe early sequences of the attempted mob lynching.

Helped by Enrique Chediak'sfluid, constantly moving camera, which must have been on the shoulder for mostof the time, and the dynamic editing of Luis Carballar and Ivan Mora Manzano,Cordero never seems to relax. He gets reliable performances from both Leguizamoand Watling, and a remarkable one from Alcazar, richer than anything the scriptproposes in so many words. Now, isn't this the greatest quality for a Hollywooddirector'

Prod cos: Anhelo,Cabezahueca, Tequila Gang
Int'l sales: Focus Features
Prods: Berta Navarro, IsabelDavalos, Guillermo del Toro, Jorge Vergara, Alfonso Cuaron
Scr: Sebastian Cordero
Cine: Enrique Chediak
Eds: Luis Carballer, Ivan MoraManzano
Main cast: John Leguizamo, LeonorWatling, Damian Alcazar, Jose Maria Yazpik, Gloria Leyton, Henry Layana, TamaraNovas, Camilo Luzuriaga, Hugo Idrovo