A Show of Force (1990)






Director:     Bruno Barreto. 

Starring:      Amy Irving (Kate Melendez),  Andy Garcia (Luis Angel Mora),  Lou Diamond Phillips (Jesus Fuentes),  Robert Duvall (Howard),  Kevin Spacey (Frank Curtin),  Erik Estrada (Machado),  Juan Fernndez (Captain Correa),  Lupe Ontiveros (Pepita),  Len Singer (Julio Dominguez).

two young independence supporters are killed by government agents, accused of trying to blow up a communication centers, but the story doesn't make sense


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Puerto Ricans have argued about American involvement with their island since it became a U.S. possession in 1898.  Some want admission as the 51st state.  Others prefer to stay as they are, U.S. citizens of a Commonwealth.  The Independentistas want Puerto Rico declared a separate nation.  This ongoing debate turned violent in 1978."

There is a Constitution Day parade today, including representatives of the armed forces and the police, as well as marching bands.  A reporter for television station 74 Kate Melendez along with her camera crew makes their way to the front of the crowd to do some reporting on the parade. 

Meanwhile, Jesus Fuentes impatiently paces around a small food stand asking where is their taxi?  With him are two other young men who are also Independentistas.   The taxi arrives and the three men pull two pistols and force the driver to relinquish control of his taxi.  Jesus does the driving.  

Kate says in her report that this is the 26th anniversary of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth on this day of July 25, 1978, but the governor himself is pushing strongly for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state. 

Jesus drives up into the small rain forest of Puerto Rico at the top of a mountain, Cerro Maravilla.  There they stop the car just below a huge communications tower.  The three fellows get out of the car and march up toward the gate around the tower. 

At the parade, someone whispers a message to the governor.  The governor stands up asking for quiet, because he has an announcement to make.  He says he has just learned that the government has beaten back a group of Independentista terrorists who were trying to blow up the communication towers at Cerro Maravilla in Todo Negro Forest.  The terrorists were killed in a gun battle that they started with the police.  He also tells the audience that this shows how Fidel Castro will not be able to export his communist revolution to Puerto Rico. 

Kate immediately jumps into action.  She and her crew drives up to the top of Cerro Maravilla.  When they get there they see the taxi driver being driven back down the mountain.  When they stop they see the two dead bodies covered up with now bloody sheets.  The police captain stops talking to a man named Frank Curtin to deal with Kate.  Kate gets a statement from the captain who says the terrorists refused to drop their weapons and were killed by the police from prone positions. 

Back at the television station studio the manager Howard asks who is that man behind the captain (namely, Frank Curtin).  They don't know.  He tells them to edit the man out of the tape. The two terrorists were Alfredo Ruiz and Jorge Rey, while Jesus Fuentes was a government agent, who was wounded in the gun fight.  Kate wants to find out the identity of that old man (the taxi driver) being taken down the mountain.   Kate returns home to her two small children and the nanny.  Kate is a widow.  Her husband was a big Independentista lawyer before he died. 

Kate goes to the studio and Howard introduces her to Frank Curtin, who says he's one of the good guys.  He is with the F.B.I.  Frank says he is a fact checker and offers his services to Kate.  Kate just listens.  Frank leaves.  Howard says Frank is one of the best sources they have.  Jorge Rey is the son of Professor Rey, head of the History Department of the University of Puerto Rico.  The professor holds a press conference to defend his son, who was no terrorist.  And the professor wants to know why, if his son was killed instantly, was his body so bruised?  He says his son was battered by the police. 

The other terrorist, Alfredo Ruiz, was a sociology student and leaves behind a wife and a ten-month old baby.  Kate talks to Alfredo's wife.  The wife shows Kate her husband's broken, very bloody glasses.  She says she and her father-in-law viewed the body and at first she couldn't even recognize the body as that of Alfredo.  The whole side of his face was busted open.  Kate has to stop filming because she becomes very emotional about the news.  At night she can't sleep.  She takes out her wedding album and looks at the photos of her and her husband. 

The police maintain that the bruises on the bodies were caused when the two terrorists fell down an embankment after being shot.  At the station Howard tells Kate that he wants an interview with Jesus Fuentes.  He says he wants both sides of the story, not just the skeptical one.  Kate tells Howard that she just found out that the D.A. is going to announce that the "terrorists" had no explosives with them at all. 

Kate and her crew drive out to see Fuentes.  He is at a cock fight.  Apparently, he has a number of roosters that he trains for combat.  Fuentes turns out to be a real prick -- he is deliberately sexually offensive to Kate, pulling down his pants to show Kate his wound.  (He was just grazed by a bullet.)   He also tries to pull Kate's hand over to his privates.  Kate is offended, but she handles the situation well.  Her crew catches up with her.  She tells Fuentes that she never heard of the Armed Revolutionary Movement before.  Fuentes says it was a four man cell that he himself started up.  The fourth member, Nestor Chavez, has probably gone underground and is being hidden by the radical students.  Kate asks him a question that takes him by surprise:  How did the radicals hope to blow up the towers without explosives?  Fuentes says they were just going to sabotage the towers:  "It's a question of semantics." 

Kate now goes to the University of Puerto Rico to talk with some of the radicals.  She asks one of the radical leaders if she can talk to Nestor Chavez.  What helps Kate is the fact that she is the widow of her radical husband.  The student leader says he will find out if Nestor wants to talk with her.  It is very apparent that Kate is being followed. 

Kate gets to meet Nestor at an up-scale open-air eating place/nightclub.  Nestor tells her that their group never even had a name.  He says she should talk to Fuentes because the plan was his from the beginning.  Nestor also says that the only thing they were going to do was to seize the air-waves and broadcast an Independentista message to the public on Constitution Day.  Fuentes got the pistols for them and he kept telling them that they have to do less talking and more acting.  Nestor adds that he didn't go because he stayed out too late the night before.  All of a sudden, Nestor and Kate are grabbed by the police and roughly escorted out of the restaurant/night club.  Nestor turns around on the policeman pushing him and pushes the officer slightly back with his right arm.  For this Nestor is shot in the gut.  Kate screams and screams and then cries. 

Kate winds up in jail and is denied the right to make a phone call.  She is brought to talk with the police captain.  He is extremely nasty to her saying that Kate interfered with a police investigation.  Kate says they deliberately used her to get to Nestor Chavez.  The captain says she also resisted arrest and assaulted a police officer.  Kate is defiant, so the captain has her thrown out of his office. 

Kate is released.  Her father, a naval officer, picks her up.  Dad asks her what she was doing in a nightclub with a Cuban terrorist.  She says she was working on a story and that the police set her up to find Nestor Chavez for them.  Dad says his big mistake was sending her to the mainland for a college education.  She, a nice white girl, returns to Puerto Rico with a Puerto Rican husband.  Kate tells her father not to talk about her husband.  She even screams at him when he continues to talk about her deceased husband.

Kate arrives home and checks on her children.  Her son asks her why she didn't telephone them.   She says she couldn't.  Kate now goes to the hospital to ask about Nestor. He is still in critical condition. 

Kate now goes to talk with the taxi driver.  Don Julio says he doesn't want any more trouble.  He shows them his shot up taxi cab.  Kate says the police destroyed his car and they should pay for it.  He says he didn't see anything, because he had to dive under the dashboard.  The police didn't even identify themselves as police.  Kate realizes that she is not going to get anywhere with Don Julio, so she leaves. 

At home Kate goes through the newspapers and finds out that on Constitution Day disabled veterans and their families held a big picnic on Cerro Maravilla.  She wants to interview some people who were at that picnic.  She gets a televised interview with one of the veterans, who happens to be blind.  He says there were a lot of shots and then ten minutes later some more shots.  Don Julio sees the interview on his television set at home. 

Kate goes home and finds Fuentes there with the nanny and her children.  Kate gets very upset and sends everyone upstairs.  She goes outside with Fuentes to talk.  Fuentes starts getting rough with her, threatening her that she better drop the story. 

Don Julio comes down to talk to Kate at the station.  He testifies that the young men were being hit and kicked after being shot, but they were still alive.  Later he heard the fatal shots.  He says he didn't tell the truth at first because he was afraid, but the blind man talked, so why shouldn't he? 

Kate reports on the Federal Grand Jury meeting to see if the civil rights of the so-called terrorists were violated.  At the station Howard gives Kate a present for her birthday.  At night Kate walks to her car.  Suddenly a car stops and Kate is grabbed and thrown in  the car.  They inject her with some kind of drug.  Later she finds herself laying down in the cock fighting ring with Fuentes standing over her.  He picks up Kate and tells her she got him into a lot of trouble.  He starts unbuttoning her shirt, kisses her, but then slaps her back down to the ring floor.

The next morning Kate wakes up in the back seat of the car and Fuentes is in the driver's seat.  He tells her he didn't violate her, because he's not stupid.  He drives her back home and lets her go.  The kids bring her the birthday cake she was supposed to have received yesterday.  Her mother is there and Kate tells her she is going to back off the story, but mother doesn't approve.  She encourages her to keep following the story. 

The Grand Jury investigation ends without an indictment.  The other pertinent news is that Nestor Chavez has died in the hospital.  Kate attends the funeral for Nestor.  The student radical who found Nestor for Kate comes over to her and starts insulting her, saying that she is the one who killed Nestor Chavez.  This upsets Kate a great deal and she leaves the funeral.  When she finds a  private place, she starts crying.   

Kate cries when she tells Howard about what happened at the funeral.  And now she feels guilty about her role in what happened to Nestor.  Howard warns Kate that there won't be any break in the story as long as Frank Curtin is around.  He suggests that Frank was involved in the murders.  And now he wants her to back off the story, because he feels that she is going to get herself killed.  He says she's not going to die while working for him.  He takes her off the story and hires her as an associate producer.  Kate warns him that she will jump stations.  She also reiterates that Howard is looking out for Frank, not her. 

Kate goes down to speak to the Civil Rights Division and the black women there has a terrible attitude.  She defends the cops' version of the story.  The woman says the bruises on the bodies were from the men falling off the embankment.  Kate tells the woman that she was up there and there is no embankment there.  Kate also tells her that she thinks that in this election year, someone wanted to scare the voters into siding with the current governor and get them to reelect him.  She adds that she thinks Frank Curtin took the directive to back the governor a little too literally.  The woman tells Kate that the people who investigate civil rights violations are the FBI themselves.   Kate gets disgusted and tells the official:  "If you want to jerk around, I'll stay at home, lady."

The next day Frank Curtin comes to Kate saying that he was just doing his job and she implicated him in a criminal act.  Kate tells him that he just doesn't get it.    Frank says maybe he does and abruptly leaves. 

Kate is having dinner in a restaurant with her children when there is a power failure.  It is the night for the election returns.  Her son asks her why does grandpa say she's not Puerto Rican.  Because she herself is not Puerto Rican; she married a Puerto Rican and now has a Spanish surname, Melendez.  The power comes back on.  Before the power went out, the governor in votes was behind his competitor, but now he that the power is back on he is way ahead of his rival.  Kate and her kids leave the restaurant.  They run into Kate's old camera crew and exchange some pleasantries.  The governor wins the election. 

Kate is a bit depressed about the governor winning.  A news bulletin comes on the television saying that they have opened an investigation of the Cerro Maravilla affair.  There will be a special prosecutor for the investigation. 

Kate switches stations to Channel 88.   She tells her new boss that she wants to air the Cerro Maravilla investigation.  She gets support from the opposition party.  And she meets the special prosecutor Luis Angel Mora.  Mora says that no one knows where the weapons in the case are.  One was a shotgun and the other a .45 caliber pistol.  Kate tells him that Frank Curtin was up there. 

The investigation begins.  The families of the murdered men are there.  Kate comes in and finds her old crew there to work with her.  They also changed stations.  In her report she asks if the two men were not deliberately led into a police ambush.  The first witness is Julio Dominguez, the taxi driver.  He testifies that the men were still alive after the first shooting. 

Flashback.  A team of assassins opens up with machine guns on the taxi.  The boys were wounded, but still alive. 

Back to the present.  The coroner gets on the stand.  He testifies that there were no other signs of trauma besides the bullet wounds themselves.  This is an obvious lie, exposed when Mora uncovers pictures of the dead "terrorists".  Fuentes now gets on the stand.  He says he was told to find a terrorist group and he found them.  Mora asks if he has ever worked with the FBI?  Fuentes says no.  Frank Curtin is in the audience.  Didn't Fuentes buy the weapons himself for Ruiz and Rey?   Fuentes says sometimes you have to bend things for the purposes of national security. 

Later Fuentes grabs Kate by the hair.  He tells her she is never going to nail Frank, because he's too smart.  Kate replies that if he was so smart, then why are they all here?

A specialist on gunshot wounds testifies that Ruiz was killed by a shotgun while he was kneeling.  The person who fired was standing over the "terrorist" and was definitely not in a prone position.  Rey was shot four times. 

Kate is at home.  One of the policemen comes to her to say that he did not shoot anyone.  He wants immunity and will talk.  During the investigation, he says Rey and Ruiz threw their guns down.  Someone gave the order to fire, but he doesn't know or won't say who gave the order.  At this time they were kicked and hit. 

Flashback.  The police open fire on the two "terrorists" and the taxi cab.  Both of the young men are wounded.  The cab driver is pulled out of his cab and slugged with the butt of a rifle.  The police witness kicks Ruiz in the face.  Another agent shoots Ruiz with a shotgun.  Still another man shoots Rey with a pistol one time.  Rey is then finished off by two shots from the pistol of another agent.   

Back to the present.  The investigation ends without finding out who gave the order to shoot the two young men.  After the investigation is over, Frank Curtin talks with Kate.  Mora signals to Kate's cameraman to film the conversation between Frank and Kate.  Kate sees her crewman taping them.  She gets Frank to incriminate himself.  Franks says he flies solo and needed something big.  And he threatens Kate, saying she's dead.  She laughs and tells him:  "And you're live."  Frank sees the camera and walks away without saying anything.  

Kate raises both arms in a celebration gesture. 




Spoiler warning. Good movie.  It kept my wife's and my attention all the way through.  It's a murder mystery, but one that involves the government and a government cover-up.  Implied is that the USA was involved in the murders because it sent its agent Frank Curtin to do something to make sure that the more conservative governor gets re-elected, thereby stopping the victory hopes of the Independentistas.  The giant, powerful USA is nearly always interfering in the affairs of the Latin countries to insure a government that will cooperate with US interests.  They suggest that Frank got a little carried away, which lets the higher-ups off easy.  The higher-ups are the ones that send the Frank Curtins in this world out to stir up trouble against any leftist movements. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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