The opening scene of The Realm follows Manuel (Antonio de la Torre) from a quiet beach, through a noisy kitchen, and to a table full of friends enjoying wine and seafood. There is laughter and toasting and inside jokes, and a great time being had by all. It’s a joyous scene, but these men and women are no mere friends. They are all government officials, and their good time comes at the expense of the people they have been elected to represent.
This is the world of The Realm, one in which it seems that nearly all government officials are corrupt to some extent and Manuel –our hero– is perhaps the worst of them. He has been living the high life for the last fifteen years off bribes, kickbacks, and graft, but when some of said graft comes to light, his political party ousts him.
That’s a hell of a setup for a story but does the movie equal the potential? Yes, it mostly does.
Like the best political thrillers, The Realm works its pacing to build tension. As Manuel is running around –first trying to cover things up and then trying to dig up enough dirt that he can take some of his cohort down with him– the camera follows him frantically, often handheld and struggling to keep up as he moves from intimidating people into keeping quiet and into threatening people who might be throwing him under the bus.
Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s camera placement and movement work together with a pulsing score to keep tension ramped up for most of the movie.
This means that the film is mostly The Antonio de la Torre Show, but that’s more than fine. de la Torre is an actor with some intensity who can communicate a lot with a look or a posture, and his performance here is a great one. Manuel is angry and paranoid through most of the film, and you can feel it emanating from him.
Similarly, while the story’s protagonist is certainly Manuel, it also clearly has no heroes despite what I said above. Manuel isn’t just a member of this club of corrupt politicians; he might actually be the worst of them. His quest to find documents that expose his party as almost entirely corrupt isn’t motivated by altruism; he’s trying to dig up dirt so he can bribe them into protecting them.
Usually, in this kind of film, the person doing the right thing is an oppressed underdog; it’s fascinating to watch it unfold from the point of view of one of the oppressors.
The Realm might rub some people the wrong way, but that is to be expected when you’re skewering politics. By the time the film’s final scene rolls around, the audience is spoken to both on-screen and in real life, your view of Manuel may well be conflicted, but maybe that’s the point. When the credits roll, you may find yourself questioning how you felt about him throughout, but that’s definitely the point.
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