A brief review of the movie 'Gun City/Sombra De La Ley' (2018)
The 1920s’ is a rich vein of material for books and movies. It was a period of extremes of wealth and with cultural clashes between the old and new in music, dance, and art, etc. Mostly we have been shown these things in the context of the USA. Think of The Great Gatsby or a ton of film noir and gangster movies from The Roaring Twenties (1939) onwards. Lately, other countries have taken an interest in the time period, with the TV series Babylon Berlin, the most expensive production in German history and Peaky Blinders in England, being salient examples. On the back of all this comes GunCity/La sombra de la ley, (2018) a movie set in Barcelona in 1921.
Gun City opens with the robbery of a military train by anarchists. Anibal (Luis Tosar) an out of town policeman joins local counterparts in their attempt to find the culprits. In classic noir style, we are soon immersed in a messy and gritty world where nobody is quite what they seem and there are multiple layers of duplicity and inter-connection between the characters.
The main players include The Baron (Manolo Solo), a sleazy cabaret owner with a network of contacts that run from high society to the lowest. We meet Lola (Adriana Torrebejano), his main attraction at the club who wants out. There’s also the Information Squad, a group of corrupt, thuggish cops who have a deal with The Baron. The other corner is taken by Salvador (Paco Tous), an elder statesman (or should that be stateless man?) of the anarchist movement, his daughter Sara ( Michelle Jenner) and a young militant (Jaime Lorente). The city is experiencing a wave of strikes. Salvador is a revolutionary but favours a more gradualist approach of such actions to achieve the end result. The younger hothead has no patience for this and advocates immediate armed action by affinity groups. The daughter is caught between these paths.
Into this steps Anibal, the enigmatic outsider. He holds at least partly to Chandler’s description of the Ur noir protagonist “…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. Anibal has to work with the other cops but sees that their methods are ineffective, he plays the Baron for his own purposes and intervenes in surprising ways in the struggle the anarchists are having. His motivations and identity are left murky for most of the film and this aspect is fairly satisfying dramatically. Which is important, as he is probably the character we are most expected to identify with. Fortunately, the acting is solid and it’s not an easy character to assay. Too much and you come across as inappropriately rosy, too little and you seem wooden and unsympathetic. Though it’s still possible to find fault with the purpose of this character. That is by making Anibal ‘us’ and centring our attention on his role, it values individualism and unjustified authority to address problems rather than collective action and social accountability.
A minor weakness comes in some fairly unconvincing CGI in the aerial establishing shots of the city. We see the Sagrada Familia being built (so nothing old there of course) and the Ramblas as locational signifiers, for example. The other slight fault comes in the unjustifiably neat wrapping up of the plot points at the end in a way that is designed to satisfy ‘us’ rather than being based on likely reality given the cynical world we’ve been placed in. The story is also hardly original in its style or twists. However, if you are a fan of the genre you will probably not care about the lack of originality in the plot and there are plenty of tasty visuals and camera work you’ll like. Likewise, if you want a change from Chicago or New York there’s something fresh for you in Barcelona.
Summing up, this movie should interest anyone interested in crime flicks, the 1920s’ as a period and film noir as a style. It doesn’t entirely satisfy politically, but hey…it’s a crazy mixed-up world out there kid, Whataya want?!