The film begins, as all movies should, with the looming George Washington Bridge as a backdrop. Javy, masterfully played by the young, 13-year-old phenomenon Antonio Ortiz, comes across a bag full of illicit cash that belongs to the neighborhood bad guy, Nevada (perfectly portrayed by Broadway veteran Raúl Esparza). That fateful find sets in motion a chain of events that will ultimately change the lives of Javy as well as his older brother and guardian Diego (played with quiet dignity and intensity by leading man and future megastar Rayniel Rufino) forever.
Set in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights, Trouble In The Heights viscerally captures the sights, sounds, colors and energy of this often forgotten piece of Manhattan. The much-maligned neighborhood is still viewed by many as the open-air drug market that it was in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Trouble In The Heights attempts to dispel the misinformation and accurately depicts Washington Heights as the dynamic, diverse and vibrant community that it is.
The cast is the perfect combination of seasoned veterans, Raúl Esparza, Luis Ramos, Olga Merediz as well as a fresh and exciting batch of young actors such as Rayniel Rufino, Antonio Ortiz, Dominic Colón, International P, Gabriel Lopez and John Rafael Peralta among others. Leading lady Alexandra Metz really shines as the young paramour of Diego, Ana; reminding me of a young Zoe Saldana as she effortlessly and expertly mesmerizes with her mere presence. In addition to writing and directing the movie, Jonathan Ullman does an outstanding job of harnessing all that talent and budding star power, putting together an admirable and accomplished debut feature film that is, in my humble estimation, a Latino Boyz In The Hood.
Trouble In The Heights is a riveting dramatic thriller that grabs you by the collar right from the opening scene and doesn’t let you go until the final credits roll. With stellar writing, direction and casting, Trouble In The Heights may help to change how the wider world perceives Washington Heights, which is not only where the movie is set in but is also an integral part of the film in much the way same the Brazilian slums are crucial players in the brilliant City of God.
So there you have it, a must see film that not only redefines a neighborhood but also serves as a vehicle for the cinematic stars and standouts of tomorrow. Trouble In The Heights is what we call in Washington Heights “good money”, so go out and support this film, you won’t be disappointed.