A Spanish political thriller “El Reino” (also called “The Realm”) elevates a stellar performance of Antonio De La Torre to a meaningful study of a manipulative politician’s fall that represents the government’s corruption. A solid, if sometimes flawed effort.
Antonio De La Torre (a Spanish actor who starred in “The Fury Of A Patient Man, which I also positively reviewed here) plays Manuel, a right-hand of the party’s head Frias’. Once a scandal breaks out, Manuel’s career plummets down in a split of a second. In the difficult times, the drowning politician won’t stop at nothing – if he reaches the bottom, he will take everyone else involved with him.
Politics is a dirty game, right?
It most certainly is in Spain – at least according to the director Rodrigo Sorogoyen. The status of any “important” person can change within a spin of a fortune wheel – one wrong video, a few dozen of stolen government-funded millions and you hit the bottom.
This uncertainty and pace is reflect in “El Reino”. Things happen fast and with a serious punch in Sorogoyen’s film, right from the start. The introduction to all of the key players in the game is swiftly executed as they drink and cheer to each other’s success. However, friends turn into blood-thirsty enemies within a few hours and there are no rules to the game they all play. As profoundly said by Benicio Del Toro’s character in “Sicario”, it’s the land of wolves.
Frankly, that would be the only thing that associates “El Reino” with “Sicario”. Contrary to the heroine of Denis Villeneuve’s film, the protagonist of “El Reino” is pretty much an alpha. He’s a screwdriver that drills where he needs to, trying to pull strings above the glass ceiling that his position allows him to. Even a rapid fall from a great height can’t break his bones. Or, at least that’s what it seems.
Therefore, the plot of “El Reino” is watching a madman’s marathon, where names, dates and events are pyramiding at the speed of light. That kind of madness is a way of storytelling that’s very hard to pull off though. It worked flawlessly in “Good Time” by Safdie Brothers back in 2017, but in the case of “El Reino” it does succeed to a certain degree.
The biggest problem here is the overwhelming abundance of details. Manuel meets many people, tries to blackmail them or manipulate his contacts in only two hours of screen time. He loses control, sees his family disconnect with him, and all of that happens with the background banging of the techno soundtrack, pounding like a hangover headache.
Due to this speeding razzmatazz, it’s hard to connect the dots at times. Some parts of the story are hasted, as if Sorogoyen took it for granted the audience will always keep up with the Joneses. The tempo is, unfortunately, hazardous to the story’s integrity and in the second half of “El Reino”, it becomes frustrating to follow the story with all details.
The key reason why this house of cards doesn’t fall apart is the marvelous spectacle provided by its protagonist.
Antonio De La Torre plays a pivotal role in this undertaking, taking on the challenge of a slimy manipulator that throughout the entire film tries to convince the audience he’s been the victim here all along. The Spanish actor masters the use of tension, dosing it and accumulating it with a Swiss-watch precision. Just like in the scandalous whirlwind he finds himself trapped inside, Manuel beguiles the audience too, almost sweet talking us to get our vote in the matter. There is power in that towering performance, a dangerously tempting charisma that lures into a false belief of his actions falling prey to a political game.
But despite De La Torre’s riveting-to-observe chutzpah, “El Reino” becomes too complex, getting too absorbed by the technicalities and, therefore, losing its potential sharpness. The statement could have been stronger, but for what it’s worth, a decent amount of craftsmanship is admirable.
El Reino (2018)
Dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Hate Grade: 3/10