Guilty Men may be a film from Colombia, but at its heart, it has all the elements of a classic western: violence, a romantic subplot, comic relief and beautiful scenery. Director Iván Gaona chose to use non-professional locals from his hometown of Güepsa, Santander, and even used their real names for the characters.
Willington is a trucker who moonlights as a DJ at weddings and other occasions. He still has a crush on his ex-girlfriend, Mariana, who is engaged to Willington’s cousin, René, and is pregnant. The story is set in 2005, a period of transition because the right-wing paramilitary group that has been ruling the area is supposed to be in the process of being demobilized. However, the film opens with a night scene in which villagers, driven by Willington, are scheduled to hand over protection money to the “paras.” But something goes wrong; the local friends commit murder; and then they have to decide what to do with the money they are left holding.
As unsolved robberies proliferate, and internecine problems develop, it becomes clear that, unlike in traditional Hollywood westerns, the various characters are not all good or all bad.
Some elements of Guilty Men are difficult for a non-Colombian audience to understand, but this is an exciting, well-produced film. Semi-comic relief? At one point, the characters debate whether they would be less criminal, and different people in general, if they had been raised on norteña music instead of ranchera music. After listening to the arguments from both sides, Willington speaks up. “No,” he concludes, “we’d be just the same; we’d just listen to different music.”