J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

SIFF ’12: Unit 7

You do not typically find nacro-gangsterism exhibits at a World’s Fair.  The Seville civic authorities aim to keep it that way.  A special four cop unit will be turned loose with decidedly result-oriented rules of engagement in Alberto Rodriguez’s Unit 7 (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival, following its earlier international premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Ángel is an ambitious cop, but asthma (a biographical detail that may or may not loom large later in the film) has cut short his hopes of career advancement.  Instead, he is assigned to Unit 7, a small autonomous squad charged with cleaning up Seville in the years leading up to the 1992 World Expo.  It is not the sort of stint that looks good on a resume, but it is a good gig for snagging a spare kilo here and there.  As the years pass, Ángel’s unit becomes a criminal outfit onto itself, but they remain steadfast taking the fight to Seville’s hardcore bad guys.

Nobody in the unit is fiercer than the devout Rafael.  The term tightly wound does not even come close to describing him.  However, when he tries to reform and possible strike up a relationship with Lucía, an attractive junkie, he starts to mellow.  It also opens up new vulnerabilities in the Spanish Dirty Harry.  Indeed, a major reckoning is clearly in the wind.

As a cop drama, Unit 7 is basically standard issue stuff.  The action sequences are rather middling and the absence of a defining villain is a drawback.  In fact, despite its grit and cynicism, the film is surprisingly sluggish at times.  Still, Unit 7 has two things going for it: the cinematic march of time illustrated by the yearly stages of the World Expo construction and the powerhouse work of Antonio de la Torre as Rafael.  While not a showy performance, he seethes like a monster.

In contrast, Mario Casas plays Ángel, the compromised idealist, like a petulant frat boy.  Rounding out the unit, Joaquín Núñez’s Mateo is more like a schlubby Cheers patron than a crooked vigilante cop, while José Manuel Poga does not even get his own shtick as the bland Miguel.  However, Lucía Guerrero is convincingly all kinds of trouble as her addict namesake.

On paper, Unit 7 looks like a highly promising if not strikingly original concept.  Yet, it never fully comes together.  There is some stylishly work from cinematographer Alex Catalán, a show-stopping turn from de la Torre, and a fair number of memorable scenes scattered throughout the film, but there are few surprises as to where it is all headed.  An okay time killer for those hooked on cop movies, but nothing more, Unit 7 screens June 8th and 9th during the 2012 SIFF, hard on the heels of its fairly well received debut at Tribeca.

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