By Neil Runge | Staff Writer
Initially a Mexican release in 2016, The 4th Company (La 4a Compañía), is seeing a new life on Netflix. Directed and written by Amil Galván Cervera and Mitzi Vanessa, this movie tells a story that can now be seen by an audience that otherwise might not have experienced this type of film, thanks to the streaming release.
Based on a true story, the film is about a young criminal named Enrique or “Easy Rider” (because he was convicted for car theft) who gets sent to a violent prison. The difference that sets this prison apart from others is that this jailhouse has an American football team called the Dogs. Enrique wants nothing more than to be on the team, and after a near-death stunt involving half of a sharpened razor blade, a fair amount of begging and a rough and tumble “try-out,” our protagonist makes the team.
What the viewers and Enrique grow to learn is that the Dogs are not just a football team, they’re also the brute squad for the prison. The prison has three companies of security guards; the team is the not so secret fourth company that does the dirty work the usual guards can’t get away with. Enrique, wanting to stay on the team, is thrown into a world of continuous car theft, gambling and a brutal mob lifestyle.
What is wonderful about The 4th Company is that it manages to take three genres of film and mix them together masterfully. Cervera and Vanessa wrote a classic underdog football story, a cliché prison narrative and a well-known mob tale. When combined, however, it was something entirely new. Many of the subjects in this plot are familiar, but they’re all done with a twist when paired with everything else. It never felt messy, and while watching, I never felt lost in the mix.
The mashing of topics succeeds in this piece of media where other creators have failed because it never shies away from its core, Enrique. The audience is connected to him and is almost subject to everything he goes through. When he is going through something that makes him uncomfortable, the viewers feel that discomfort as if it was their own. The writers didn’t move away from gore or try to hide it, they stay true to how chaotic the prison system is, and made sure that anyone watching knew it, too.
The cast is what made it feel the most real. Every antagonist and the friends of the main character are all played by Mexican actors. It only adds to the fact that this is a recording of a Mexican story. It’s refreshing to see a movie where there aren’t any white characters that hold the focus. Too many movies tend to use minority characters as a tool to further a white society, and with The 4th Company, that’s not the case. A minority can’t be used as a tool, because the cast is made of a minority group. Although it’s violent, it represents a group of people that are often hidden away or just not talked about.
The 4th Company is a stunning piece of cinema that brings a frequently pushed-aside topic to light. It acknowledges the Mexican community but also offers commentary on the country’s prison system. It’s a story told about a people, by a people.