A Spanish political thriller El Reino (2018) (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.
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.
In El Reino (2018), Sorogoyen looks at one of such rise-and-fall careers.
What is El Reino (2018) about?
Antonio De La Torre (a Spanish actor who starred in The Fury Of A Patient Man (2015), which I also positively reviewed here) plays Manuel, a right-hand of the party’s head Frias’. When 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.
When the card of house falls down, people loose patience, and often forget to mitigate risk. Uncertainty, caused by those risky endeavors of Manuel, plays a pivotal role El Reino (2018). For the falling politician, things happen fast and with a serious punch right from the start.
The introduction to all of the key players in the game is swiftly executed by director Rodrigo Sorogoyen. Through an idyllic image, as the influential people drink and cheer to each other’s success, Sorogoyen pinpoints a fleeting moment of glory for Manuel. 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 (2015), it’s the land of wolves.
Apparently, that would be the only thing that associates El Reino (2018) with Sicario (2015). Contrary to the heroine of Denis Villeneuve’s film, the protagonist of El Reino (2018) is an alpha, a shark ready to bite. Manuel could be compared to a screwdriver that drills where needed, as he tries to pull strings above the glass ceiling over his head. Sorogoyen convinces the audience that Manuel’s skin is made of cement, and even a rapid fall from a great height can’t break his bones.
Or, at least that’s what it seems.
El Reino (2018) is a madenning sprint with the devil
In order to evoke this hot-head marathon, El Reino (2018) propagates names, dates and events as they’re pyramiding at the speed of light. That kind of madness is a way of storytelling that’s very hard to pull off though. A similar concept worked flawlessly in “Good Time” by Safdie Brothers back in 2017, but in the case of El Reino (2018) it does succeed to a certain degree.
Sorogoyen’s main issue is an overwhelming abundance of details, which he serves at light’s speed. Manuel meets hordes of alike shufflers, attempts to blackmail them or manipulate his contacts, and he progressively loses control, the result is – among other -a complete detachment from his family. All of that happens with the mind-drilling techno soundtrack by Olivier Arson, which pounds like Berlin electro in Berghain.
Due to this ever-speeding razzmatazz, it’s often a breakneck task to connect the dots. 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 (2018), it becomes frustrating to follow the story with all these details.
Antonio de la Torre glues it all together
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, strives to convince the audience that he’s the victim here all along. The Spanish actor masters the use of tension, dosing it and accumulating it with a Swiss-watch precision. As if our vote could potentially save him, Manuel beguiles us, almost sweet talking to get our vote in the matter. There is power in that towering performance, and a dangerously tempting charisma that lures into a false belief of his actions falling prey to a political game.
Despite De La Torre’s chutzpah, El Reino (2018) 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, it’s an admirable effort.
El Reino (2018) – Culturally Loved or Hated?
Its fast-paced, and detailed plot demands too much of cognitive capacity to be fully understood, but the riveting action and de la Torre’s role are enough reasons to love Sorogoyen’s film.
Hate Grade: 3/10
Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Writer: Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Isabel Pena
Starring: Antonio de la Torre, Mónica López, Josep Maria Pou, Nacho Fresneda
Music: Olivier Arson
Cinematography: Alejandro de Pablo
Where to watch: HBO Go
If you liked El Reino (2018), or are looking for similar films, here’s a few titles you might like:
- Good Time (2017) – an equally mind-numbing pace as in El Reino (2018), elevates this heist movie to a rewarding, but also tiring experience
- Vice (2018) – political thriller that keeps its pace fast and sticky to the protagonist
- All The President’s Men (1976) – a classic film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, which gave grounds to many political thrillers
- The Ides of March (2011) – a political scandal fuels this drama about young campaign manager who finds the wrong guy to work for