Thursday, 27 September 2012

Grupo 7 / Unit 7 (Alberto Rodríguez, 2012)


   Grupo 7 takes place in Seville between 1987 and 1992 when the city was being cleared of 'undesirables' in the run up to playing host to Expo 92. We follow one of the police units charged with running the drug dealers out of town and removing drugs from the streets, a unit that already has a reputation for violence at the point at which we join the story. I included the film in my post about 10 Spanish films I was looking forward to in 2012, and said that it was a possible Spanish Training Day (I'd seen that film mentioned in relation to it). But actually although the initial set-up -a new officer, Ángel (Mario Casas), joins a team headed by a dominant and violent alpha male (Rafael -Antonio de la Torre, excellent as ever) who is unafraid to get violent to get results- points to a typical 'rookie officer faces trial by fire and conflicting loyalties but eventually proves his moral worth'-type narrative, this film flips that because Ángel arguably turns out to be the worst of the bunch. 
   He takes readily to the violence but he is also willing to go beyond 'stretching the rules' to 'breaking the law' in a way that initially stuns the other men. Arguably the lengths that he will go to, and his lack of emotional engagement with the people whose lives he places in danger -not only his wife (Inma Cuesta) but also informant Joaquin (Julian Villagran) and the team's criminal accomplice, La Caoba ('Mahogany') (Estefania de los Santos, who walks a tightrope between nerviness and brash bravado in her scenes)- remain problematic for the other members of the team (Rafael, Mateo (Joaquín Núñez), and Miguel (José Manuel Poga)). For me, Ángel is the weak point of the film (although that's not a criticism of Casas's performance -he does what is required of him) because although he is initially the audience's route into the narrative, I don't think we really get an explanation for his behaviour or a clear idea of his motives (is it boy-scoutery taken to dangerous extremes, is it the money, a desire to impress, or something else?). In contrast, Rafael emerges as a character with hidden depths and an emotional basis for his behaviour (and he also develops as a character as the film progresses), quite different to the stereotypical 'brutal cop' he appears to be in the opening scenes.
   This is a well-made and slick action film / thriller with an array of interesting characters and a narrative that hooks you from the outset and doesn't let go for the duration. It is a sign of the film's quality that it has been shortlisted (alongside Blancanieves / Snow White (Pablo Berger, 2012) and El artista y la modelo / The Artist and the Model (Fernando Trueba, 2012)) to represent Spain at the Oscars. I'd like to revisit in the future when I've had the chance to rewatch it and listen to the audio commentary (Antonio de la Torre and director Alberto Rodríguez), possibly to consider it in the context of style and/or genre. 

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