By/Por Bob Jimenez
In Counterpunch, Alvaro Orlando plays an ambitious young prize fighter, (Emilio) struggling with a violent past threatening to undo a promising future in the ring. There is, however, no uncertainty about the confidence, ability and quality of Orlando’s screen writing ability, which, although is as predictable as a Rocky or the Karate Kid outcome, still manages to take us there in its own unique way. Instead of Philadelphia, our young Rocky emerges from a barrio neighborhood of Miami and yes, burdened by everything that urban blight inflicts on people; kids, on the street, grow up to be gangsters on the street. Mothers raise their children and neglect them, boyfriends are threatening and abusive. Yet there is hope, often the only thing to hang on to, and it shines from the eyes of a dying grandmother.
Orlando, for good measure, throws in mental illness, a subject that is often taboo and usually left out of most films depicting the desperate lives of the dispossessed. But Orlando uses it to give us even more cause to doubt our young warrior’s ability to overcome the demon in his head. And it all works as the story evolves with healthy portions good and evil, helped by a cast of talented young to middle aged Latin actors who never betray the reality Orlando creates. The only unflawed character in the film is, of all things, a pit bull dog, Emilio’s constant companion.
Orlando’s own acting ability appears to be self-taught, emotions he, no doubt, draws from the inner sanctum of joy and pain he grew up experiencing in real life. When his eyes twitch and dart while trying to understand somebody offering him kindness, it’s probably the same expression he learned years earlier while trying to figure out who to trust and who to avoid. Counterpunch is full of moments like and just as hatred and bigotry are put to the test, so is love.
Bad boy thug, Danny Trejo makes a surprise appearance in the film and is counter cast as a counselor in a mental ward, and for a change, not somebody incarcerated. His face is so deeply chiseled from the scars of his own real life prison experience that it is almost a metaphor for the ugliness and brutality of the fight game. It’s hard to even imagine for a moment Danny Trejo forcing a smile, but he does.
Alvaro Orlando (Emilio), Oscar Torre (uncle Frank), Ivonne Coll (Grandmother Daisy) and Camilla Banus (Talia Portillo) are the standouts, all at ease with their parts and knowing just when to punch and counterpunch their dialogue.
Kenneth Castillo helped write and direct the film. A credible music score, patient editing and rich color tones und out Counterpunch as an easy and fun movie to watch because, if nothing else, it’s a classic American story with a happy, triumphant ending. The young actor/screenwriter says he told his mother Andy Garcia won’t be the only Cuban descended America to make it in Hollywood. Latino Weekly Review believes Alvaro Orlando’s prediction of success may just come true.