We know how this story goes: young hustler works his way up in the crime world. He builds an empire, then sees it all come crashing down. But as with any story, it's the telling that matters. And you haven't seen it told like this.
Birds of Passage was Colombia's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars, even making the shortlist. But even not having seen all the five nominees, I'm pretty confident in saying they screwed up by not nominating this (to say of nothing of South Korea's Burning). This is an epic about the corruption of U.S. influence, family rivalries, the loss of tradition and destructive force of greed.
Rapayet is an ambitious guy from a poor family. He wants to marry Zaida (Natalia Reyes), the daughter of a Wayuu clan. He can't afford the dowry, and hasn't impressed the matriarch (Carmiña Martinez, in an impressively layered performance that should have gotten her some awards attention). But when he and his low-life buddy Moisés (Jhon Narvárez) hear of some visiting Americans looking to score weed, a lightbulb goes off over Rapayet's head, and he joins forces with his cousin Aníbal (Juan Batista Martínez), enriching both of them, but making them increasingly paranoid, and making their acolytes harder to control.
Things reach a fever pitch when his nephew Leonidas (Greider Meza) starts to think his wealth means he can do anything, including humiliating the family bodyguards and assaulting the daughter of Aníbal. That starts a brutal war that only Rapayet seems interested in stopping. But the devastation continues, as revenge becomes all-consuming.
What's special about this version of the rise and fall of the gangster is how specific it is. Much of the film is in local dialects, with a major focus on traditional beliefs and rituals. But the tragedy is still the same in any language.