Dir: Luis Estrada. Mexico. 1999. 120 mins.
Prod Co: Bandidos Films, Imcine. Prod: Luis Estrada. Exec prod: Sandra Solares. Scr: Luis Estrada, Jaime Sampietro, Fernando Leon, Vicente Lenero. DoP: Norman Christianson. Prod des: Ana Solares, Salvador Parra. Ed: Luis Estrada. Mus: Santiago Ojeda. Main cast: Damian Alcazar, Pedro Armendariz, Leticia Huijara, Isela Vega, Alex Cox.
Ripe with irony, Herod's Law is a gleeful satire on Mexico's reputation as the land where corruption rules and a good man is someone too stupid to ask the wrong questions. Already the subject of some controversy on its domestic release, it has enough of a universal resonance to connect with international audiences. Extensive festival exposure rather than distribution deals would still seem to be its more logical fate.
The immediate post-War years provide the setting for a film that courts comparison with golden age Hollywood classics. Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes To Washington and Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty are two of the obvious inspirations for a comic tale in which a political innocent is catapulted into high office. Unlike Jefferson Smith, Damian Alcazar's country janitor proves to be no people's champion and the crux of the film is his remarkably swift descent from idealistic reformer to tinpot dictator.
Appointed mayor in a one-dog town, he vows to uphold justice and implement sweeping social change. He underlines his incorruptibility by refusing a bribe from the local madam and threatening to close her brothel. Circumstance and history are against him however. Without financial resources or moral fibre, he inevitably succumbs to temptation. Soon, even murder isn't beyond his capabilities.
Although overlong and somewhat obvious, Herod's Law proceeds to attack its familiar theme of power corrupting with comic verve and spares neither church nor state in apportioning blame.