Men with Guns

Men with Guns
Men with Guns

DVD cover
Directed by John Sayles
Produced by Lou Gonda
Jody Patton
R. Paul Miller
Maggie Renzi
Written by John Sayles
Starring Federico Luppi
Damián Delgado
Damián Alcázar
Mandy Patinkin
Music by Mason Daring
Cinematography Slawomir Idziak
Editing by John Sayles
Studio Independent Film Channel
Clear Blue Sky
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release date(s) September 5, 1997 (1997-09-05) (Canada)
March 27, 1998 (1998-03-27) (United States)
Running time 127 minutes
Country United States
Language Spanish
Budget $2.5 million
Box office $910,773[1]

Men with Guns (Spanish: Hombres armados) is a 1997 American drama film written and directed by John Sayles. The executive producers were Lou Gonda and Jody Patton, and the cast included Federico Luppi, Damián Delgado and Mandy Patinkin.[2]

Set in an unnamed Central or South American country, it is the story of one man's discovery of what actually happened in the political history of his nation as well as his students. It was filmed in Mexico and most of the crew were Mexican.



Federico Luppi and Dan Rivera Gonzalez.

Dr. Fuentes (Federico Luppi) is a medical professor near his retirement. He has taught a group that trains young people to provide health care to poverty-stricken citizens in the outlying hill country, where small agricultural communities struggle to survive. He's also been largely ignorant of the political events in his country.

Fuentes has recently heard rumors that his former students are lost and possibly dead, so he musters up the courage and travels into the outlands to investigate. As Fuentes digs into the jungle he discovers that his students have been menaced by many men with guns. This indicates military forces who use torture and execution to intimidate people. He discovers that the guerillas from opposition political groups are only marginally less aggressive.

On his journey he accumulates a few travelling companions: Padre Portillo (Damián Alcázar), a defrocked priest who's lost his faith; Domingo (Damián Delgado), a deserter from the Army without a country; Conejo (Dan Rivera Gonzalez), an orphan who survives by stealing; and Graciela (Tania Cruz), a woman who has turned mute after she was raped by the military.

Fuentes finds that his journey is revealing but also perilous the deeper he ventures. He ends up travelling into the hill country, looking for his last student, who is rumored to be living in an Edenic village high in the mountains, safe from the violence which has engulfed the countryside. As the doctor and his companions get closer to this half-mythical place, the journey becomes a quest for both safety and an assurance for Fuentes that his life has had some meaning.


  • Federico Luppi as Dr. Fuentes
  • Damián Delgado as Domingo, the soldier
  • Dan Rivera Gonzalez as Conejo, the boy
  • Tania Cruz as Graciela, the mute girl
  • Damián Alcázar as Padre Portillo, the priest
  • Mandy Patinkin as Andrew
  • Kathryn Grody as Harriet
  • Iguandili Lopez as Mother
  • Nandi Luna Ramirez as Daughter
  • Rafael De Quevedo as General
  • Roverto Sosa as Bravo
  • David Villalpando as Gum Person


Principal photography was done in thirty-seven shooting days in January and February 1997 and filmed in over forty locations.

John Sayles' films tend to be politically aware and social concerns are a theme running through most of his work. This film's idea came from his friends, one of whom was the novelist Francisco Goldman. He had an uncle who was a doctor in Guatemala and was involved in an international health program. A few years later he came to find out that most of his students, whom he had sent off to serve as rural doctors, had been murdered by the government that supported the program.

Sayles does not name the country in the film, and the music he uses is quite eclectic and not tied to any specific Latin American country. This is because Sayles didn't want people to think that it can "only happen in El Salvador, that can only happen in Guatemala or Mexico". He felt the film has universal overtones and the events portrayed in the story could have happened anywhere on the planet.[3] It should be noted, however, that logically the setting cannot be Mexico, because during an argument with Mandy Patinkin's character, Fuentes claims that the human sacrifices the tourist claims took place in Fuentes' country actually occurred in Mexico, committed by "foreigners from the north."

Filming locations
The movie was filmed entirely in Mexico, in 40 locations, including: Mexico City; Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl; Pueblo Naranjal, Xonotzintla, Soledad Atzompa, Zongolica, and Jalapilla, all in Veracruz; Palenque and San José Babilonia, both in Chiapas.


Men with Guns was first presented at the Telluride Film Festival, Colorado, the weekend of August 29 - September 1, 1997.[4] A few days later its international debut was at the Toronto Film Festival on September 5, 1997. It opened in the United States on March 27, 1998.[5]

The film was featured at various international film festivals, including: the Deauville Film Festival, France; the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain; the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Scotland; the Helsinki International Film Festival, Finland; the Reykjavik Film Festival, Iceland; and others.

Critical reception

Roger Ebert, film critic writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, liked the film, and wrote, "Men With Guns is immensely moving and sad, and yet because it dares so much, it is an exhilarating film. It frees itself from specific stories about this villain or that strategy, to stand back and look at the big picture: at societies in collapse because power has been concentrated in the hands of small men made big with guns."[6]

Critic Jack Mathews liked Sayles straightforward unadorned style, and he wrote, "Men With Guns is a slow-paced trip, with a lot of translated conversation, and Sayles keeps it pure. The actors are said to be speaking in four dialects, and there's nothing about the film, other than the ill-conceived couple (Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody) used as comic relief, to give away its American origin. Sayles has never been a visual stylist, and his latest film is as straightforward and plot-bound as any of the earlier ones."[7]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twenty-five reviews.[8]


CD cover

An original motion picture soundtrack was released by Rykodisc on February 24, 1998. The CD contains twenty-three tracks (00:43:10), and includes songs heard in the film and the film score written by Mason Daring.

The music is universally Latin in flavor. The various styles include: cumbias, the Colombian dance music; a brass band; an orquestra, of Mayan culture; Peruvian Susana Baca singing a cappella; El General's funky hip-hop; and Mason Daring's bass marimba and Spanish guitar-driven score.[9]



  • Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, for expressing with sensitivity and efficiency one of the essential problems of our time; International Catholic Film Association (OCIC) Grand Prix Award; Solidarity Award; all for John Sayles, 1997.[10]



  1. ^ Box Office Mojo web site.
  2. ^ Men With Guns at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Men with Guns, Sony Classic Pictures Official Web Site, production section.
  4. ^ Willman, Chris. Entertainment Weekly, "Fathers and Guns: Cinema Tales from Telluride," issue #396, September 12, 1997.
  5. ^ Vulcan Productions web site, September 4, 1997.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, March 27, 1998.
  7. ^ Mathews, Jack. Los Angeles Times, "Sayles Again Goes His Own Way With Effective Guns," March 13, 1998.
  8. ^ Men with Guns at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: November 28, 2009.
  9. ^ Moerer, Keith., Editorial Review.
  10. ^ Film Festivals web page, SSIFF.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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