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Directed by Rodrigo Vázquez  |  Review by Helen Wheels

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]riminals, terrorists, or activists? The line is blurry when you’re passionate about change, as the young comrades come to realize, in Rodrigo Vázquez’, “Trumped.” Vázquez gives us the story of a plan to push back against an ever increasingly corrupt system and turns it into a raucous ride as the scheme takes on a life of its own. When an opportunity for political leverage presents itself, the group gets serious about starting a revolution. After all, how hard can it be navigating a political scandal? It appears they have a chance to instigate much-needed change by first proving their target is unfit for office. Why not go for it while there’s an opening?

Vázquez’ stellar lead cast is a diverse group staring Tessa Hart as Rey — the leader. Hart takes on the role as if she’s been there before. There’s no trouble believing the fire that burns inside her character to take down seedy politician Neil Laplage, played by Neil Summerville. As the momentum of their plans builds, so increases her commitment to seek justice. Her girlfriend, Angela portrayed by Nansi Nsue is the activist that sparked the fire in Rey’s heart. They feed each other’s desire for change as they build their crew to take action against Laplage.

Erin Wilson as Caitlin — the arms dealer, reminds me of the character Leanne Taylor, played by actress Emma Myles, in Orange is the New Black. Wilson’s character so closely resembles Myles’ that I wonder if she used Myles’ performance as a character study for Caitlin. The persona works perfectly in this instance; Wilson’s character is self-assured with her weapons and has enough knowledge to be frightening. She’s kind of a redneck, in American terms; yet, somehow, she’s a likable character in all her gun-loving glory.

Like his co-stars, Carlos Mapano as Kato — the ninja janitor, is believable and highly entertaining. Kato is a hyper-active Filipino man who is concerned about being deported to the wrong country because somehow the government messed up his paperwork. He is the link, in my mind, to the underlying message about unjust immigration laws that are harming immigrants worldwide. Vázquez is shedding light on the issue of unfair and illegal immigration laws. He’s also using this fictional platform to make the point that the oppressed are going to rebel eventually. Citizens act out daily, all over the world, some in more politically correct ways than others.

Another commentary that “Trumped” touches on is the rise of the influencer in social media. Vázquez character Anna — played by Mia Lacostena, is Laplage’s daughter from an affair with a Polish woman. He’s kept their relationship hidden to avoid scandal. When Anna hooks up with the crew after them initially kidnapping her, the whole thing takes on a “Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army” feel. Anna is their lucky charm that happened by accident. In addition to her position as the secret lovechild of the politician they want to take down, Anna is also a social media celebrity with thousands of followers. Though she comes off as a superficial social media maven, Anna turns out to be much deeper than anyone realized. Oppressed and brushed aside, she is ready, willing, and able to spread the word about her father’s illegal activities. Score!

Speaking of score, the film’s soundtrack provides a narrative of its own that alludes to the eternal struggle between the elite who are in control and those whom they oppress. It moves between bluesy renditions of songs that may have been sung by slaves in the cotton fields, to upbeat jazzy tunes, or Latin guitar that fit perfectly with an action sequence. In one of my favorite scenes, the score is reminiscent of a big top circus as Kato attempts to twirl his pistol like some gunslinger from a western. Though “Trumped’s” subject matter is serious, the comedic performances keep us entertained. Beneath the humor, however, lies a warning.

Ultimately, Vázquez film “Trumped” has a message that says there’s a fine line between activist, criminal, and terrorist. What that line is has something to do with how we treat each other individually, and how far we’re willing to bend our morals to make a point. How can we be held as criminals when the system is broken? Perhaps we need these starry-eyed activists to set us back on the right path as a society. Trumped is the winner of “Free Speech” Category at the Cult Critic Movie awards and is nominated for Jean Luc Godard Award, 2019. Viva la Revolucion!


Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications.  Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.

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