SPOILER ALERT! Don't read any further if you don't want to know what happens in this film.
This is a movie about a man and a little girl caught up in a world of gangland violence who find a connection despite the lack of a common language or culture.
The man, deftly portrayed by Forrest Whitaker, is going through some kind of family trouble and has come to Spain to clear his head. His trip coincides with a big meeting of gangster overlords from various territories. A foreigner in a strange culture, he unwittingly ends up at the site of the gangster meeting, using his camcorder to record the sights and sounds around him. It is here that he meets the little girl and her mother.
The gimmick in this film is that they show what happens next from the perspective of several different characters -- including the gangsters themselves. There is even a subplot involving one of the bodyguards of the main gangster kingpin: This guy had previously been shot ("taken a bullet") while protecting his boss, and there is some concern about whether he is ready to be back in the line of fire again. (Indeed, the theme is borrowed from another gangster film of that very name.) To their credit, the filmmakers make a genuine effort to create sympathy even for the gangster characters -- to get us to see them as human too. Ultimately however, this effort fails and we are left caring only for Forest and the little girl.
The film explodes when one of the kingpins is shot -- or so we believe. It turns out that Forest may have captured the shooter on his video camera and he helps out by showing his footage to the kingpin's bodyguard. Then, a bomb goes off in the plaza and chaos ensues. Forest ends up following some of the gangsters with his camcorder as they barrel through the city, stealing cars from people so they can chase after the other gangsters, knocking down pedestrians and firing guns into crowded streets (they are gangsters after all.)
In the end though, Forest does not allow his preoccupation with the gangsters' violence to obscure what is truly important: his relationship with the little girl. When, as the gangsters are shooting each other up, he sees her in danger, he acts immediately and heroically in the film's climactic moment.
Ultimately, I have to give this film 2 stars. While it is a touching portrayal of the relationship between an American man and a young Spanish girl and while Forest's character goes through a complex and powerful transformation from near despondency to heroism, the film is flawed. Far too much time is spent establishing the violent and amoral world of the gangsters. Yes, this is an important piece of the film as it forms the backdrop upon which our story unfolds, however a few minutes early on and some quick cuts to their violent rampages through the city later would have sufficed. Likewise, the attempt to build sympathy for the gangsters, while admirable, fails in the end.
Perhaps it is because they are pitted in contrast to the goodness of our main characters, but despite the filmmakers' best efforts, we are left seeing these people simply as amoral brutes who see nothing wrong with putting the lives of innocent people at risk as they conduct their own internal gangland feuding and chase down their enemies. We are left not with any sympathy for or insight into these characters but only with the question: Why were they allowed to take up so much time from an otherwise fine film?