The film takes place in a local hotel in Reno, Nevada, and it revolves around it's autistic care taker, Manny DeSilva (Phillips), and his mysterious hotel guests. Although most of the actors, besides Lou Diamond Phillips, are unknown, they all deliver spectacular performances. The protagonist Manny, played exceedingly by Lou Diamond Phillips, is a complex middle-aged autistic man, who has a violent past, and is surrounded by people who seek to exploit him for his disability. El Cortez revolutionizes the way that autistic characters should be portrayed. Manny is strong, intelligent, complex, but also very vulnerable. As he tries to make a better future for himself, Manny's violent past catches up with him, and he's thrown into a world of deception, love, and betrayal. Lou Diamond Phillip's performance is not the typical way autistic characters have been represented in previous films, and Manny's character illustrates the complexity and dynamics of autistic people.
"Come to a place where secret's lie," is the tagline of the film, and it illustrates the mystery and complexity of this film noir. El Cortez is full of twists and suspense, however, in an age of constant plot twists (seen in most M. Night Shyamalan's films), "twists" have now become the norm. It seems that ever movie has to have an unsuspecting plot twist, including El Cortez. However, I feel that the plot twist of this film does not flow well, and will not make sense to most audiences. This is the only aspect of the film that I disliked. The rest of the film went against the typical Hollywood norms, but at the end, it succumbed to the typical Hollywood explosions, and a plot twist that's unpredictable, but out of place as well. Overall, I would recommend this film, due to it's humor, mystery, suspense, and charm, despite its typical ending. 2 ½ out of 4 stars.