11:55: Victor Almanzar Makes An Impressive Name For Himself
[Published at Film Inquiry] Actor Victor Almanzar makes his screenwriting debut with the gritty, visceral, and sobering 11:55. Almanzar plays retired US Marine, Nelson Sanchez, returning home to his family in Newburgh, New York after serving in Afghanistan. There, his violent past comes back to haunt him, prompting a lean, mean, and thoughtful subversion of the revenge genre. With the help co-screenwriters and directors, Ari Issler and Ben Snyder, and a supporting cast including John Leguizamo, Julia Stiles, and Elizabeth Rodriguez, Almanzar largely succeeds at providing audiences a compelling thriller with an intelligent story.
Furthermore, 11:55 marks yet another success for independent distributor, Gravitas Ventures, who has quietly amassed an envious portfolio of films over the past decade. Adhering to Gravitas’s fail-safe business model, 11:55 was released both theatrically and on digital streaming services. Though, due to the dwindling demand of independent films on the big-screen, the theatrical release is extremely limited, leaving the comfort of their own home the most likely place for audiences to view 11:55.
Revenge-Yarn, Crime-Thriller AND Socially-Conscious Veteran Drama
Usually, anything over two people in the writing room working on the same script can be a gamble; voices, visions, and tones can clash. However, in the case of 11:55, Almanzar’scollaboration with Issler and Snyder pays creative dividends. The film lands equally in revenge, crime/gangster, and war drama genre territory. Though this genre-blending concept may appear superfluous and tonally combative on paper, the transitions, aided by the realistic dialogue, move the film along consistently enough to keep the viewer invested.
Credit is due, in large part, to Issler and Snyder’s wonderful direction for bringing these three distinctive genres together with their episodic formula. 11:55 ensues as a concatenation of hastily-paced vignettes that become increasingly urgent with the assistance of Ray Hubley’sfluid editing and H. Scott Salinas’s auguring score. Issler and Snyder use some of Newburgh’s less-flattering neighborhoods to the story’s advantage.
Over 34% of Newburgh’s population remains below the poverty line. Single-parent households, abandoned buildings, local municipal corruption and negligence in maintaining quality of life (issues of toxic water supply, education system flaws), and high unemployment rate (over 10% of the population) make Newburgh one of New York’s rougher areas. Issler and Snyder immerse themselves in this world; many of 11:55‘s frames display a muted color palate mediating backdrops consisting of condemned residential and commercial property and grey skies, peppered with images of urban decay.
Almanzar portrays Sanchez with a damaged psyche, an emotional tenderness. His nuance as an actor implies the horrors that he may have seen in combat as he tries to adjust to civilian life. Sanchez isn’t the one-dimensional Taken-esque character archetype singularly determined on exacting revenge. Instead, he is a multifaceted character, both a victim and a victor of his own surroundings and inner demons.
An Envious Ensemble
Stiles is only onscreen for about 5 minutes, but her presence is felt. However, as the fellow ex-Marine, Berto, the transformative Leguizamo wears his heart on his sleeve. Crippled by war emotionally and physically, Berto’s pain and loyalty to Sanchez, who saved his life, suck him into Sanchez’s predicament: he wants to start anew, his old cronies won’t let him off that easy. Leguizamo is a chameleon, providing Berto with anxious ticks, a frayed voice, and earnest yet defeated body language. Viewers may wish Leguizamo had more screen time in 11:55, yet the 80-minute runtime leaves little room for the plot to take any unnecessary diversions from the inevitable showdown at the film’s climax.
Rodriguez as Sanchez’s sister, Angie, is an epiphany. To call it a traditional “star-making performance” wouldn’t do it justice. Fresh off of the success of Logan, Rodriguez gets a chance to flex her acting chops on the center-stage, and, figuratively, her onscreen prowess could eviscerate any Wolverine-like force. There is a certain scene involving Angie in a barber shop that will be engrained in viewers’ minds long after the credits role. It is the icing on the cake that is her performance.
Almanzar Weaves A Pressing Subtext Into The Story
11:55 isn’t just a timely film because of its insightful look into the detrimental effects war has on veterans and the morale of the world population in general, but it also provides subtle commentary on gun control. Through glimpses of Sanchez’s pre-Marine life on the streets, the audience gets the notion that gang-presence is prevalent in Newburgh, and guns are easily accessible. Sanchez’s past coming back to haunt him began with an impulsive pull of a trigger in a fight-or-flight situation. Sanchez is a good man who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to commit this act without a gun. That’s a different, more philosophical conversation. However, the gang of white supremacists seeking retribution against Sanchez upon his return pushes that subtext closer to the surface as 11:55 progresses.
Sanchez doesn’t want to kill anymore; after having actually witnessed the repercussions from an objective standpoint of gun-violence in warfare, he gains a new perspective on the importance of self-reservation. The rival gang doesn’t have this enlightenment. They’re stuck in the suffocating cycle of trivial gang-violence. The ending is intense, but anticlimactic in the best sense of the word. It is a refreshing surprise, and offers a simple yet erudite philosophical solution to the issue of gun control.
Almanzar and Rodriguez: Solidified Stars
After 11:55, Almanzar will likely emerge from being a relatively unknown character actor into an in-demand leading actor and screenwriter. His non-traditional approach to storytelling is a breath of fresh air. Don’t be surprised if he takes Issler and Snyder with him on his ride to stardom in the industry. Their naturalistic eyes and docudrama tendencies match well with Almanzar’s thought processes.
This is not the depressing tale it appears to be on its surface. Sanchez’s journey has a dim light at the end of its tunnel. A film as well-executed as 11:55 deserves far larger of an audience than it will likely receive, as it hasn’t had much publicity. Expect a lot more from Rodriguez on the big screen outside of her small-screen alter-ego, Aleida, in Orange Is The New Black. She and Almanzar lead a diverse cast of minorities in this clever, emotional, and adroitly rewarding drama of genre-mashups.
Did 11:55 strike a chord with you? Did you see it in theaters or at home? Are you excited for Almanzar and Rodriguez’s bright futures?
11:55 was released by Gravitas Ventures on June 9 for limited theatrical screenings and via most major digital streaming services.