Political thrillers can be dark, mysterious, mentally testing and sometimes completely fail to engage in any form of activity conducted above an idling tempo. This is certainly not the case for Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s The Realm, the latest diplomatic pulse-raiser exported from Spain to set nerves on edge at London Film Festival. Featuring in this year’s “Thrill” category, it is very easy to see why, with conspiracy, corruption and scandal being just a few of the enduring themes threaded throughout the duration of the picture – along with a light sprinkling of car chases for good measure.
From the opening sequence, it becomes evident what sort of exercise in political filmmaking this feature is going to be, throwing the audience immediately into the fast-paced environment in which Spanish protagonist Manuel Lopez-Vidal (Antonio de la Torre) lives and breathes his everyday life. He seems professional, assured in how he conducts his business, confident that he is the master of the dog-eat-dog world of politics. But there is a sickness in the party slowly being unearthed by the media that could put his status and those around him at risk should it be discovered. With the party choosing to wipe their hands and distance themselves from his presence, Manuel takes matters into his own hands to clear his name, but the real questions are in whose interests is he really working, and who is the real villain in this equation?
Unmistakeably a proud Spanish production, writers Sorogoyen and Isabel Pena take the opportunity to invoke a very real message behind the context of the film, something truthfully addressed in the closing minutes of the movie with consequential resonance. The script is very well crafted for its genre, engaging the audience in a structured story with a balance of dialogue and action that carries the plot with an enticing fluidity. This is no less thanks to the endearing performance given by de la Torre as the focal character placed in such a dire predicament, who could very well be a persuasive real-life spin doctor or politician if he ever wished for a career change. His mannerisms, paired with a tension-building soundtrack that goes hand in hand with the pacing of the script, complete a commanding combination for a riveting political thriller.
The Realm does becoming slightly testing on the attention span with its two-hour running time, making this reviewer wonder if perhaps it could be even more effective as a two/three-part drama series, but less The Thick of It and very much more a Spanish House of Cards.