Synopsis: Writer Juan Delancer also directs this stirring foreign-language drama based on the true story of Minerva Mirabal (Michelle Rodriguez) and her sisters (Sharlene Taulé, Celines Toribio, and Luchy Estevez), married women and political dissidents who lost their lives standing up to Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (Juan Fernández). Although they once led lives of privilege, the sisters risked everything for what they believed was right.
Serious Jest: (Don’t Bother) The history of Dictator Rafael Leonides Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic is extremely compelling. It is a subject that shocked and captivated readers in Julia Alvarez’s book, In the Time of the Butterflies, which was advertised as a fictionalized account of the Mirabal sisters’ struggle against the evil dictator. Tropico de Sangre was advertised more as “based on the true story.” However, it felt like I was watching a Lifetime movie or Univision soap opera. The focus seemed to be more on romanticizing a steadfast woman who wasn’t going to let a powerful man push her around (constant proud references to how stubborn she was, and how she refused to do simple things like write an apology letter, even at the expense of members of her family), than telling the story of a brave and intelligent revolutionary who risked everything because she felt she had little choice. Rodriguez’s character comes across like she likes to fight, and battles Trujillo just to show him he can’t mess with her. There was not enough buildup in the beginning as to why Trujillo is so terrible, or why Minerva hates him so much in the beginning (although he certainly gives her good reason later). Also, it is a bit ridiculous how powerful the film makes her seem from the outset, defying Trujillo so openly that he spends years personally tracking her life and frustrated whenever she succeeds; if she was that much in the forefront in his mind, the real Trujillo would have had her eliminated/neutralized a long time ago, as he did with so many others who did less to him. I also disliked the poor, cheapy quality of the score/soundtrack.
On a final note, the actors did a good job overall. I don’t know enough about Trujillo to gauge whether Fernandez accurately portrayed him, but he sure as hell made you hate him and his God complex. Ironically, I felt that the weakest performance came from the biggest name. At first, I thought that maybe Rodriguez seemed a bit awkward because she was doing a Spanish-language film (this can be a tough task for someone who is used to starring in English films, even if she is a native speaker). However, as the film progressed, and her character developed, I realized that I only like Rodriguez in tough-chick roles; it’s like she only has one gear. As an innocent, happy girl with dream-filled eyes, Rodriguez’s performance seemed forced, but as soon as Minerva’s character had developed into a confident, hardened revolutionary, Rodriguez hit her full stride again, igniting the fire in her eyes and setting her jaw in a defiant way at just the right times.