Angel Rodriguez doesn't spoon-feed its audience. Its characters are complex, dysfunctional and unpredictable. Its narrative unfurls rather than progresses. Director Jim McKay, who co-wrote the script with Hannah Weyer, approaches this modest slice-of-life tale with the unblinking eyes of a documentarian.
The title character (Jonan Everett) is a troubled Brooklyn high school student recently thrown out of the house by his father (David Zayas). Angel is subsequently invited to stay overnight with high school counselor Nicole (Rachel Griffiths) and her yuppie husband, Henry (Denis O'Hare). But the boy, who has a gift for working with computers, seems intent on squandering every opportunity handed him.
Indeed, Angel is a character marked by ambivalence. Smart and sensitive, he also has a short temper and resorts to lying, stealing and cheating -- even violence. He is being pulled in different directions, an internal conflict gradually revealed in this low-key film.
The barebones storyline of Angel Rodriguez is a canvas for moving, character-driven drama buoyed by excellent performances. McKay's strategy is as naturalistic as it is respectful of his audience. Instead of awkward exposition or formulaic plot points, he allows these complicated and believable characters to breathe and interact. While its ambiguous ending might be frustrating, the movie's cinema verité style is used largely to great effect.
Ultimately, a film this realistic is only as successful as its actors, and Angel Rodriguez is blessed to have two tremendous performers in newcomer Everett and the more seasoned Griffiths (Brenda in HBO's now-defunct "Six Feet Under"). But New York City also does a fine job as its own sort of character. With handheld camera chronicling Angel as he walks the streets through a pivotal 36-hour period, the movie captures a strong sense of place. In Angel Rodriguez, New York is a bustling, exciting and ultimately alienating environment in which a troubled boy with potential can find himself, literally and figuratively, lost.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer boasts realistic skin tones, rich colors and fairly detailed visuals. The images are soft in spots, but nothing that proves a distraction.
Options are an English audio track on Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Spanish track on 2.0. Considering the modest scope of the movie, the 5.1 is surprisingly inventive in its sound separation. Audio throughout is consistent.
The DVD includes a three-minute, 40-second Making of Angel Rodriguez featurette that is pretty standard fare. More interesting is a commentary track by Jim McKay. Although he insists in the beginning that he really has no idea what viewers want or expect in such commentaries, his remarks are informative and interesting throughout.
Angel Rodriguez is not for all tastes. There is little plot in the conventional sense, and conflicts are hinted at instead of being spelled out. But a film this perceptive deserves a look from cinephiles who like their art to be challenging.