When the middle-aged writer Fernando Vallejo (German Jaramillo) returns to his hometown of Medellin, Colombia, after living for 30 years abroad, things have drastically changed. This city of four million people is the drug capital of the world. Rival gangs send out hit men on motorcycles to avenge the murders of their comrades. The streets are filled with homeless youth and starving people whose faces mirror the desperation of their plight. The church buildings are still places of prayer but have also become the contact points for drug dealers, hoods, and prostitutes.
Vallejo has inherited a high rise apartment from his sister and seems to have plenty of money to spend. He picks up a 16-year-old streetwise hustler named Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros) who asks him why he's come home. "To die," the writer responds. The chances of doing so while walking the streets with his young lover are heightened since Alexis has a habit of shooting people who irritate him. He casually dispatches a noisy kid who plays drums across from Vallejo's apartment, two contentious strangers on a subway train, and a man who whistles.
Our Lady of the Assassins is Barbet Schroeder's (Reversal of Fortune) first non-American film in 16 years. It is based on a 1944 novel by Fernando Vallejo and was filmed in Medellin.
The scariest part of this stunning cautionary tale is the casual way in which the civilized writer quickly gets used to the violence on the streets all around him. He comes to accept Alexis's kill-or-be-killed philosophy. In one of the most macabre moments of the film, Fernando learns that some of the gang assassins ask St. Jude to bless the bullets that are used to cut down their enemies. It's an oddly fitting metaphor for a place where the gun is viewed as a holy object.
Although Alexis has no qualms about casually murdering people on the streets, he's unable to put down a dying dog they find on the side of the road. Eventually Fernando goes to the slums of Santo Domingo Savio and sees for himself the prison of poverty where Alexis was born and raised. Returning to the city, the writer meets Wilmer (Juan David Restrepo), another violent youth with a gun who carries a secret that will shake Fernando to the core.
Our Lady of the Assassins graphically portrays Medellin as a modern day hell where civility is vanquished, violence is king, and the gun is worshipped.