"Manito" exists on a fast-paced, rough edge that is both the core of its being and one of its biggest detriments. The film carries a certain gritty power to it that is at many times invigorating, and the production of the film (all technical aspects, the acting, etc.) show that this is clearly the work of a group of emerging talents. However, the film doesn't always feel entirely complete, and there are times that, thanks to the film's editing, I felt that it missed out in some areas.
Franky G. plays Junior Moreno, a freelance renovation contractor (who tends to cut some corners), father and husband. When the film opens, he is in the process of setting up the final preparations for a party for his little brother, Manny's (Leo Minaya), graduation. Manny is the pride of the family for the moment, seeing as he got a scholarship to Syracuse. Within the course of a day he manages to find a girlfriend (Jessica Morales) while Junior cheats on his wife yet again. The party goes on without a hitch for some time until someone wanting to get in (who I won't reveal here) disturbs it. But apart from that interruption, it's an otherwise successful event. The real problems only begin to show themselves after the party is long over.
This is a good example of a miniscule budget actually doing wonders for a film. "Manito" was filmed on hand-held, digital video cameras that give the film an unshaven, improvised, and down-to-earth look. The film is, for the most part, engrossing, identifying with the Washington Heights streets where it was made and putting us in the middle of them, dropping us into the lives of its characters with visceral electricity.
The actors here, mostly unknowns until this production, deliver powerful ensemble work. They give performances that are as true as the film itself. Franky G. in particular is impossible to turn away from; his performance is the kind that has the vulnerability and anger to it that demands attention. Working with actors may be where director Eric Eason's true strengths lie, for each person in the cast gives a completely open performance.
What drags "Manito" down, unfortunately, is the nagging sense that there is so much more to its characters than what is being presented. Holes in the film begin to crop upnothing to do with logical or plot elements, but holes in terms of character development and emotional connection. There are times that the film feels so rushed that it runs past some intimate moments. By the ending, which seems to be a clear, strong decision on Eason's part, I wasn't entirely sure how the characters got there (this is all from an emotional standpoint; once again I'll point out that all the film's logic checks out). I wanted to spend more time with these characters; the impact of the ending felt nearly lost because it appeared too soon. The running time of the film is shorta mere 77 minutesbut this is one film that could have easily been expanded.
All this being said, there is still power in this film. The fact that there could have been so much more doesn't make it unworthy of a recommendation. It has an undeniably real feel to it, but Eason doesn't quite balance mood and character in a way that allows them solidly complement each other. However, despite its faults, "Manito" is an experience that's absolutely worth having. And Eric Eason, who gives the film its personality, is a filmmaker that's absolutely worth watching.