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Based on actual events, a gritty, gripping action thriller that runs on all cylinders
Flash back to Seville, Spain, in the late 1980s as the city prepares to welcome millions of visitors to Expo '92, The Universal Exposition of Seville. In order to present a modern, safe image to the world, the government wisely decides to try and rid the downtown area of its rampant drug crime. "Unit 7" is created, an elite group of narcotics officers with a mandate to use whatever means necessary to wipe out drug trafficking. Just make sure it's legal and, if not, that nobody finds out.
Based on actual events, the original story was penned by Rafael Cobos and Alberto Rodriguez. Cobos developed the screenplay and Rodriguez directed. This is their third collaboration.
The four team members, Ángel (Mario Casas), Rafael (Antonio de la Torre), Mateo (Joaquín Núñez), and Miguel (José Manuel Poga), are predictably thrown together with the typical rookie vs. veteran, family man vs. womanizer dynamic that sets up what could be clichéd character arcs. The fact that they're not owes much to Cobos' taut script, to be sure, but the narrative's spark of authenticity is mainly due to the heartfelt performances and obvious on screen chemistry of the actors.
Despite its ensemble setup, the star of the film, in reality, is Mario Casas. With his adoring wife, newborn baby, and, of course, a sweet doggie at home, Ángel is the soul of Unit 7, and the story is told primarily through his eyes. He's lit like an angel in a stained glass church window and behaves like one, to boot. It's established from the start that the appropriately and not coincidentally named Ángel, as the most sympathetic character, is the one to watch.
His transformation from baby-faced naif to wannabe Clint Eastwood is what the audience expects, and Casas delivers, yet still surprises at many turns. He's a worthy protagonist in an otherwise Central Casting narc squad. Poga, Núñez, and de la Torre do an admirable job as contrasting characters and in comic relief. But without Casas, while this would be a fine project, it would lack the humanity he brings to the story.
Technical elements are superb with big budget production values. Single-point lighting is favored in the officers' homes, with soft shadows and a warm color palette bathed in amber, reflecting the safe, comfortable environment they have to look forward to at the end of the day. Stark street exteriors are cold and pushed blue, mirroring the vulnerability and harsh reality of the workplace where there's little safety and notorious drug gangs lurk around every corner.
Julio de la Rosa's incessantly pounding score perfectly matches the brutally fast-paced action. When the "drug bust theme" kicks in you know there's some major whuppin' about to go down.
Cinematographer Alex Catalán sticks to stationary tripod shots in the characters' "safe places," at home and at the police station. As the action moves outdoors and into the streets, the camera-work phases into Steadicam and hand-held. The action sequences are filled with heartstopping crane and helicopter shots, along with a copious amount of hand-held closeups, coordinated to the throbbing drug bust theme. There's a grainy grindhouse feel to these scenes which is evocative of the thrilling police dramas of the 70s. Never lost is the breathtaking landscape of the city and its beautiful surroundings, captured elegantly in Catalán's lens as a loving postcard from Seville.
This Spanish entry in an otherwise well-worn genre could have been formulaic but, with passionate performances and Cobos' smart and witty script, it remains focused and compelling. "Unit 7" is a gritty, gripping action thriller that runs on all cylinders.
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