2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Gasoline Thieves’

April 25, 2019

by Carla Hay

Regina Reynoso and Eduardo Banda in "The Gasoline Thieves"
Regina Reynoso and Eduardo Banda in “The Gasoline Thieves”

“The Gasoline Thieves” (“Huachicolero”)

Directed by Edgar Nito

Spanish with subtitles

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival  in New York City on April 25, 2019.

There have been countless movies made about different crimes, but “The Gasoline Thieves” is probably the first dramatic film that you’ll see about a crime that is starting to get national attention in Mexico: thieves trespassing on land with Pemex pipelines, stealing gasoline from the pipes, and selling the gasoline on the black market. This riveting first feature-length film from director Edgar Nito takes a look at the crime from the perspective of a teenage boy named Lalo (played by Eduardo Bando), who gets involved with a local group of gasoline thieves and finds out that that he is in way over his head.

Even though the characters in “The Gasoline Thieves” are fictional, they are all entirely believable, and Nito has written them as characters with the sort of quiet desperation of people yearning for a better life. Lalo is actually a good kid, who loves and respects his single mother, who lives with him in a ramshackle building. He also has a crush on a fellow student named Ana (played by Regina Reynoso), whom he hopes to impress enough to convince her to be his girlfriend.

Like many people who turn to a life of crime, Lalo is struggling financially, and he is desperate for cash. He plans to steal temporarily just so he can get enough money to help his mother and have enough cash left over to woo Ana with dates and gifts. As a gift for Ana, he has his eye on the latest cell phone that he won’t be able to afford unless he can come up with the cash quickly.

Joining Lalo in the thieving activities is Rulo (played by Pedro Joaquin), a tough older teen who has less of a conscience than Lalo does. Unlike Lalo, Rulo is more comfortable with being a criminal, and there’s the sense that Rulo is in “thug life” for the long haul. Leading the group of local gasoline thieves is Don Gil (played by Fernando Becerril), a senior citizen who acts almost like a grandfather to Lalo when Lalo is recruited to steal gasoline.

Much of the movie shows Lalo and his accomplices working together as a coordinated team to commit the thefts. Lalo essentially begins to live a secret double life—harmless student by day, reckless thief at night. He also makes tentative steps to get Ana to show interest in dating him. Ana plays it coy by keeping him in the “friend zone” while still flirting with him.

Meanwhile, the local police are investigating the gasoline thefts and are starting to close in on the gang. When Lalo finally reaches a decision about when he’s going to quit being a criminal, it has a ripple effect that spreads almost as quickly as a fire accelerated by gasoline. “The Gasoline Thieves” director Nito (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay) has a flair for ramping up the suspense in key moments, whether through well-placed camera angles or how he weaves Carlo Ayhllón’s gripping score into each scene. The results are a haunting story that will make viewers wonder how many anonymous gasoline thieves are out there in real life who are like Lalo—fooling themselves into thinking it’s a harmless crime, and finding out the hard way that it’s not so easy to quit.