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by on October 14, 2010
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Click here for showtimes for “Sequestro”

Hard-hitting, engaging, and tense, “Sequestro” is as taut as any thriller you’ll see in the multiplex, with the added knowledge that what you’re seeing is 100% real.

Recorded mostly in Portugese, “Sequestro” highlights the epidemic of kidnappings in Central America. If you’re like me, you’ve no doubt heard of this rash of abductions through movies and television (Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire” turned Denzel Washington into an avenging angel using it as a plot device), and if this documentary is an indication the fiction is more or less accurate.

Perhaps most interesting is the unlikely reason for these kidnappings: the fall of the Soviet Union. The Soviets funded many leftist movements in Central America, and when the USSR fell, that money vanished, leaving a lot of political dissidents lacking in funds. So they took to taking money, first from rich people, by taking their loved ones.

Soon they were abducting people seemingly at random, then contacting their families and demanding money. If they didn’t get the money, their loved one was killed (and in some cases was killed even if they did pony up).

“Sequestro” features interviews with victims, their families, and even kidnappers themselves, for whom it was all business. You hear phone conversations between kidnappers and victims, and, perhaps most riveting, you actually follow the police, “Cops” style, as they break in to rescue kidnapping victims.

The conversations with former kidnappers was fascinating. The discuss the art of kidnapping and how expensive and complicated an enterprise it is. There are many factors involved, from where the victim will be kept, how their anonymity will be maintained, and how long they’ll keep the victim before releasing them (not to mention finding a safe house that the authorities don’t know about).

“Sequestro” is a wrenching, riveting documentary that is accessible without losing sight of its importance. It shines a light on the ugly underbelly of our neighbors to the south, and offers as many thrills and chills as any summer blockbuster could hope to.