2018, Movies

The Realm aka El reino (2018, Rodrigo Sorogoyen)

This is a deeply flawed but otherwise pretty incredible thriller about white collar political corruption in Spain. The good aspects of it are so good that I really want to overlook the massive problems – such as the run-time – but I don’t think I can. Let’s put it this way: for 2/3rds of this movie, I suspected I might have been watching the best film I’d see in 2018. And then, as so often happens, the film kind of went off the rails in the third act. That shouldn’t prevent you from seeing what is mostly a very good movie, however.

SPOILERS So, before I reveal them, let me say that if you like political thrillers, or you wish there were more films which made white collar corruption exciting, you should see this movie.

So, let’s start off with the incredible film that this movie almost is. We are dropped in the middle of corrupt Spanish politicians and bureaucrats as they enjoy themselves. Almost immediately, a scandal appears but we don’t learn much of it, beyond that they go into damage control mode to protect their lavish lifestyles. The film treats us as adults, and reveals the corruption, and the extent of it, very slowly, as if we are listening in on real people in the real world, rather than having a movie tell us what’s happening. And, at the same time that the corruption grows, and we learn more and more about it, the bubble that these politicians live in, slowly starts to crumble. The crumbling of this bubble is handled about as well as I could possibly imagine, and it’s extremely impressive and artful.

All the while, there is the thumping electronic score, which should have driven me crazy. (I cannot tell you how much I hate when music tells me to find something tense which I already find tense.) But here I think it is really effective simply because we do not know how serious these scandals are for the protagonists, because they never stop to tell us (as they are behaving like regular people) so the score helps us understand the high stress nature of the situation, and it’s quite tense.

The film has some incredible moments and is really well acted and, as I implied above, well written. If the film had ended after the scene with the recorder – though I’m not sure how it would have – I likely would be telling you this is the best movie I expect to see in 2018. Alas…

Problems begin when the protagonist goes to Andorra. This is where the realism of the film begins to drop away, though it’s not all bad. There is a rather incredible betrayal – handled with all the subtlety you’ve come to expect from this movie – and there is one of the one of the most incredible car chase scenes I’ve ever seen in any movie. The problem is that what happens in Andorra and what happens in before the end of the car chase belong in a different movie.

And the car chase ends in a predictable, Hollywood way which it shouldn’t. And this is the point at which I think the film lets us down. It has been so adult about everything up until now, managing to be intelligent, tense, entertaining and occasionally funny while providing a really unique take on examining political corruption in Spain; the end of the car chase is below this film.

The film ends with speechifying which removes all the subtlety. I think that speechifying is necessary for the moral, and it’s handled as well as it could be, but it still felt, again, as if it was beneath the incredible earlier parts of the film. I agree that this point needs to be made, I just wish there was some other way it could have been put onto the end of the movie. If the entire Andorra section had been excised, I likely would have been completely on board with the speechifying. (And, I will say, it’s well done as speechifying goes.)

And that brings us to the film’s biggest flaw: holy shit did this movie need an editor. It’s well over 2 hours and a lot of it could have been cut away and we’d still have an incredible film. You could hear people audibly struggling with its length in the audience, and a tauter film might have avoided some of the films problems in its final act.

None of this is to take away from the performances, which are all excellent. And I really, really wanted to give it a 9/10 – hell I might have given it a 10/10 if it had somehow ended after the recorder seen.

So close to amazing. Alas.

8/10

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