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Illegal Tender
cast: Rick Gonzalez, Wanda De Jesus, Manny Perez, Gary Perez, and Antonio Ortiz

director: Franc Reyes

104 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
When one of Hollywood's most talented and acclaimed filmmakers collaborates with an up and coming director you take notice. So when John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood, Hustle & Flow, Four Brothers) and Franc Reyes (Empire) got together and rustled up Illegal Tender, I was very curious as to what the outcome would be.

Set across two time frames, the film opens in 1985, telling the story of Wilson DeLeon - a drug dealer seeking one last big score before turning his back on crime. But things are not as simple as that as DeLeon finds out painfully, and fatally, through the dull thud of bullet on bone. And time is not a friend to DeLeon's family as they find themselves being hunted down by Javier Cordero's (Gary Perez) gang with sinister intentions that involves revenge and bloodshed.

This puts DeLeon's widowed wife, Millie (Wanda De Jesus) on the run, but her son, Wilson Jr, refuses to take the threat seriously until a hail of lead affirms the severity of the situation. From here Singleton and Reyes take us on a roller coaster of emotion and action where family and honour are paramount.

Scenes are set in a variety of locus and involve a multitude of cultures. This allows for a very worldly view on proceedings, despite the fact that the catalyst for the unfolding events is very much a drug turf war. As Wilson Jr's previously privileged life begins to unravel in a chain of events partly of his own doing the basic premise that the love of a mother is a bond that is unbreakable comes to the fore.

One of the tricks that carries this film along, aside from it being a darn decent yarn, is the casting of some well known faces from some of the big hitters in TV drama with stars from shows such as Reaper, CSI: Miami, Heroes, and Rescue Me to name but a few making significant contributions to the film.

Where Illegal Tender does let itself down a touch is in the soundtrack, which at times seems a bit perplexing and rarely fits with the mood of the moment. However, this is greatly offset by strong performances from Wanda De Jesus and Dania Ramirez in particular.

Illegal Tender is a good solid crime movie. There are fine performances aplenty, excellent direction and no shortage of powerful scenes that it delivers on many levels. My curiosity was rewarded with a film well worth watching.

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