If you were to glance at the front cover for The Virgin of Juarez, you might think, "Hey, that looks like a sleazy-straight-to-video flick using some lurid ripped-from-the-headlines premise." And you'd be mostly right -- with the jarring statistic that since 1993, over 300 women have been abducted and killed in and around Juarez, Mexico (just over the border from El Paso, Texas), screenwriter Michael Fallon proceeds to fashion a lazy, tension-free drama that pits bull-headed journalist Karina Danes (Minnie Driver) against community leaders Patrick Nunzio and Father Herrera (Esai Morales).
While on assignment along the U.S.-Mexico border, Karina encounters Mariela (Ana Claudia Talancon), one of the very rare survivors of the brutal attacks continuing to occur along the border -- while Mariela recovers from her ordeal, she begins to have visions of the Virgin Mary and experiences stigmata, occurrences which attract considerable public attention and bring hope to a public worn down by violence.
There's a sense of urgency about the subject matter -- the murders in Ciudad Juarez are ongoing and as yet unsolved -- that's not really reflected in the film; director Kevin James Dobson works with what he has but can't sustain any genuine tension or interest in the material beyond your average episode of "Law & Order." It doesn't help that Driver overacts to a spectacular degree, with Angus Macfadyen right behind her, sporting laughable facial hair and an accent that would make Ricardo Montalban blush. Jacob Vargas and Esai Morales are fine in their roles, but there's a sense of made-for-cable indifference that just cannot be shaken. The impact of the film can be measured in its stops before appearing on DVD -- a couple film festivals -- and its relative lack of bonus features; hell, even Minnie Driver appears to be gritting her teeth while discussing the flick in the lone featurette. There has to be a gripping, involving film to be made from this material, but The Virgin of Juarez ain't it.
Befitting a recently filmed movie, The Virgin of Juarez looks pretty sharp with this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer -- suffering only from fleeting instances of edge enhancement and noise, this is an otherwise clean image that gets the job done.
Free from speaker-wowing action sequences or immersive crowd scenes, The Virgin of Juarez doesn't give its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack much to do, other than provide a firm foundation for Aaron Zigman's score and the occasionally painful dialogue. A Dolby 2.0 stereo track is also here, and while forced English subtitles appear for conversations transpiring exclusively in Spanish, optional English and Spanish subtitles are also available.
Forget about supplements: a five-minute "On The Set" episode of Showtime Movie News, presented in anamorphic widescreen, is all she wrote, aside from trailers for The Virgin of Juarez, The Breed, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Champion, Angela and The Pumpkin Karver.
The impact of the film can be measured in its stops before appearing on DVD -- a couple film festivals -- and its relative lack of bonus features; hell, even Minnie Driver appears to be gritting her teeth while discussing the flick in the lone featurette. There has to be a gripping, involving film to be made from this material, but The Virgin of Juarez ain't it. Skip it.