El Desconocido

This is a movie review of Dani de la Torre’s El Desconocido (Retribution).

It is a typical school day, branch bank manager Carlos (Luis Tosar) juggles work on his phone and laptop to appease his boss over some questionable investments they want their clients to invest in while his wife Marta (Goya Toledo) rushes their kids, Sara (Paula del Rio) and Marcos (Marco Sanz), through breakfast.

Carlos is still on the phone as he and the kids leave their well-appointed modern house and get into his BMW. He ignores the fact that it is unlocked and smells differently because he has more urgent things at hand. The kids occupy the backseat and he and his important documents take the front seats. As he is driving to school, un numero desconocido (an unidentified number) tells Carlos that there are bombs in the car, set to explode if any one of them stand up and leave the car. The caller with very masculine voice knows all about the ins and outs of the bank, the contents of Carlos’ and Marta’s bank accounts, right to the last centavo, and the marital problems they have. The caller demands Carlos to ferret out all of the money from their accounts and some that belongs to his clients to his; otherwise, he will trigger the bomb. Like any sane man, Carlos thinks that it is just a prank until he locates the wires of the bomb. For the sake of his kids, Carlos maintains his cool under the tense situation.

The poster of Dani de la Torre’s El Desconocido (Retribution). Photo from vacafilms.com

The poster of Dani de la Torre’s El Desconocido (Retribution). Photo from vacafilms.com

Things escalate when the car of assistant bank manager Victor (Ricardo de Barreiro) explodes with him and his wife in it while Carlos and his kids watch in horror just a few feet away from the scene. As the minutes tick by, Carlos’ problems compound, as a result of the car blast Marcos has a bleeding leg, his children are either crying or screaming and both are terrified and his wife is difficult to locate. And of course, there is a ticking bomb under his dash.

For most of the movie, Carlos and his kids remain in the car while Carlos uses his smooth and practiced ways to charm the bank’s VIP clients to place their money in an imaginary investment just so he can reach the €480,000 the desconocido wants. Yet, the desconocido does not allow Carlos’ car to be idle for more than a few minutes to evade suspicions. This forces Carlos to zig and zag his way through the mostly busy and scenic streets of A Coruña.

It is only a matter of time before the authorities get involved, and they do, in an almost bungling way. The lead investigator Espinosa (Fernando Cayo) is an act-now-ask-later kind of police officer who mistakenly identifies Carlos as the antagonist. His seemingly cuckoo ways are balanced out by the mainly logical approach of bomb expert Belén (Elvira Mínguez). I typed mainly because Belén is not infallible and has her moments of weakness attibuted to that second X chromosome that we share.

Right until this moment, the desconocido remains as such, an unknown, but his appearance in the last act of the film and his constantly present masculine voice more than make up for his long absence. Only then the audience get to know his own story (there are Chekov’s guns in previous scenes). And it is a story worth telling.

Dani de la Torre’s El Desconocido (Retribution) is a highly-charged action film. Most will remember El Desconocido for the exciting car scenes and the extraordinary camerawork and to some less extent, the gray colors that dominate most of the film. Almost the entire film happens inside a car, yet the movie remains watchable. With Tosar’s Carlos as the heart of the film, El Desconocido has a versatile character. As mentioned in Cien Años de Perdón, every fiber of Tosar’s body acts at will. Tosar gives El Desconocido the same treatment. His face is a complex picture of many emotions – bewilderment, anger, hopelessness and sheer determination, sometimes all of them are exhibited simultaneously. He is not afraid to show some waterworks and nasal mucus (the longest I have seen so far). With his character’s strength and vulnerability, Tosar makes me believe that he is a crooked banker, a devoted father and a Jason Statham-incarnate behind the wheel. He also makes me invest in him emotionally and care about the outcome of the film. They can make a film about Tosar’s body, I mean this in the least erotic way, and I will watch it seven times. Even the guy’s hair strand acts.

However, there are things that bug me about El Desconocido. One is the seemingly changeable character of Marta. Second is the incapacity of Espinosa to do a decent investigation. I know they add drama to the film, but it just makes their characters unlikeable.


Stray Observations:

  1. I cannot end this without mentioning the desconocido (Javier Gutiérrez). I met the actor as Juan in La Isla Mínima and he was brilliant in it. He does not disappoint as El Desconocido. His voice is hypnotizing, and for the third time I will say it, and very masculine. I did not know it would be him, so it was a pleasant surprise to see his face grace the screen. He remains my third favorite Juan from Spain.
  1. Again, what role can Luis Tosar not give justice to? He has been an inmate (Celda 211), a creep (Mientras Duermes), a bank robber (Cien Años de Perdón), and a film producer who grew a conscience (También la Lluvia), and these are just at the top of my head. The guy is amazing!

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