By Gary M. Kramer.
The earnest documentary After the Murder of Albert Lima depicts the painstaking efforts of Paul Lima to get justice by sending the man who killed his father to prison. This film, directed by Aengus James, is basically a glorified version of a reality TV show, complete with colorful bounty hunters, starring a man who wants closure – and will go to extreme lengths to get it.
As the film opens, Paul is talking with Cindy Crim, a contact he has on the Honduras island of Roatán. They are discussing Paul’s plan to capture Oral Coleman, the man who killed his father. Cindy offers Haldol to aid in sedating Oral, and there is talk about whether to put Oral in a trunk, or crate, or a suitcase. Paul’s plan seems to be half-baked, so it is some relief when he meets with Art Torres and Zora Colakovic, professional bounty hunters he hires to help him accomplish his mission. Paul also insists he won’t tell his mother about his scheme because he doesn’t want to cause her worry.
After the Murder of Albert Lima does a good job explicating what happened to Paul’s father. Albert, a lawyer, made frequent trips to Honduras, and befriended Martin Coleman, a poor man who was like a second son to him. When Martin’s family bakery hit hard times, Albert loaned Martin and his family a large sum of money. Unfortunately, Albert was eventually killed trying to collect the debt. He was beaten, shot, and his body discarded, by Martin’s brothers – while Martin hid. Oral, the living brother who committed the crime, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 16 years in jail. Unfortunately, Oral has bribed judges to keep from serving his sentence and he needs to be captured to be imprisoned.
Paul, along with Art and Zora, are now, 13 years later, planning to make that happen.
Director James chronicles Paul’s, Art’s, and Zora’s day by day efforts on the island. They arrive and scope out the bar and bakery where Oral is supposedly living and working. They meet Cindy and Kent Crim and learn about a life-threatening situation the couple is in that illustrates just how corrupt and dangerous Honduras is. The team also acknowledge that they are ill-prepared to achieve their goals as the tasers and handcuffs Paul shipped to Cindy never arrive. Cue shopping spree for pepper spray and duct tape.
After the Murder of Albert Lima is interesting in how it portrays finding a murderer in a foreign country. And there is some intrigue in how the embassy worked to assist Paul (or not) in putting Oral in jail. The years of investigation Paul did to understand the way things work in Honduras – Kent aptly claims it is the land of mañana – are interesting. As are some of the red tape issues Paul encounters, such as a situation where an original, not a copy, of a document is required for action to be taken.
But too much of the film features Paul talking to the camera and insisting on getting justice for his father’s killer. He wants closure so he can move on with his life. This is a fair point, but it is repeated at almost every development and again at every frustrating setback.
Moreover, the film often has viewers playing the waiting game – as Paul does for days on end in Roatán. As Art and Zora try to make contact with Oral in the bar and identify him as the man they need to capture, there are scenes of Paul sitting in a car, waiting for news. This may show the tedious nature of investigatory work, but it is not particularly cinematic.
At least Art and Zora are appealing characters. He is always hungry and tries to keep Paul even-keeled as they slowly figure out the best way to move ahead with their plans. Zora has the film’s most exciting moment when she makes a rookie mistake and accidentally discharges a gun in their rental car.
But there is not much in the way of suspense as the story plays out even with the hiccups Paul and company encounter. James films After the Murder of Albert Lima in such a cool, impassive way that viewers will be sympathetic to Paul’s cause, but hardly on the edge of their seat waiting to see what happens next. As Paul, Art, and Zora take risks, the consequences of their dangerous actions are never truly palpable. The film simply fails to generate much in the way of tension.
After the Murder of Albert Lima is a personal story – and for Paul and his family, an important one. But the film feels like something a stranger might recount on a long journey. Getting it off their chest is satisfying – but more for the teller than the listener.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.