Oso Blanco – No Mas

Oso Blanco is currently available on streaming Netflix

One-Line Review: Fascinating subject, poor documentary, awful cinematography.

Oso BlancoOso Blanco (2009) – Not rated

“This gritty documentary takes you inside the legendary “Oso Blanco,” the most feared prison of Puerto Rico. It is the birthplace of two of the most dangerous Latino gangs: “Neta” and “Los 27″ and the scene of hundreds of murders.”

Oso Blanco (White Bear) is, or rather was, a notorious prison in Puerto Rico. There is a wealth of material to be had, enough for several documentaries – from the history of the penitentiary to the rise of the gangs to the horrific conditions and overcrowding to an indictment of the justice system and so on. Sadly this film is none of these things.

The directors open with stories being told urban legend style without any verification. When they segue to stories that are more immediate and verifiable, skepticism from the initial stories carries over, undercutting the events being discussed. Later on, pacts with the devil and prison hauntings are presented as well.

The cinematography is the worst part of the film. Sometimes when heads are talking, they use part of the screen to animate what they are saying – such as playing soccer with a head. Shots often overlap each other and not in an artistic way. Scenes can run from a single second to several minutes, resulting in a questioning of who on the crew had ADD.

Then it continues with the interviews – sometimes they shoot the interviews full body, some just head shots, some are in color, and others in black and white. Then they will just stop the whole documentary for a musical number. There are so many of the really short scenes where you would honestly like to know what they were filming (or showing sometimes in black and white photographs). If you can get used to that, then two thirds of the way through the movie, they throw in split-screen.

Oso Blanco is also in subtitles. Normally I don’t mind them but in many cases here they are incorrect and/or inadequate. For example, one scene quotes the prison as closing in 2007 while the placard states 2004. The subtitles are also hard to focus on when the scenes are changing rapidly. The documentary runs a scant 77 minutes, including credits.

Oso Blanco is the most frustrating documentary I have watched since God Save My Shoes.