Adapted from the well-regarded novel by Jose Angel Manas, who co-scripted with director Montxo Armendariz, the film takes in a group of friends intheir early 20s who pass their nights at the Kronen, coming in for a particularly tight focus on Carlos (Juan Diego Botto), the most aimless and scornfully nihilistic of them. In the opening reels, the director unobtrusively establishes their nightly ritual of drinking, dancing, doing drugs and coming on to girls for fairly emotionless sex. The occasional fight and some idle thrill-seeking, in the form of reckless driving or life-threatening feats of courage, are about as extracurricular as they get.
Armendariz neither romanticizes nor overdramatizes the group’s exploits. He simply presents them as they are, seemingly laying the foundations for more dynamic drama to come. But the film never develops much beyond that, just offering more of the same.
Forays into family life are limited to Carlos, whose rapport with his well-heeled, middle-class folks is coldly indifferent, warming up marginally only with his grandfather.
A backdrop of random violent crime, political corruption and society’s general malaise is dumped in heavy-handedly over a television spewing out unsavory news items while Carlos and his family have dinner, or via the friends’ chosen film entertainment (“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”). Likewise, the lyrics of songs played by the Kronen’s house band belaboredly spell out subtexts of rebellion and self-destruction that already are more than implicit in the action.
The congenial young thesps bring ease and naturalness to their roles. Aside from Carlos, however, the only character that has any real shape is his more communicative, repressed gay sidekick, Roberto (Jordi Molla), who shows momentary signs of wanting to slow down.
The characters are pushed closer to the edge as the film progresses, but Armendariz draws too transparent plans for all the dramatic developments, allowing the audience to see everything coming.
Botto plays Carlos with both a sneer and a smile, making him an exploitative but charismatic central figure, who perhaps could have done with a more substantial glimmer of sympathy.
Technical work is clean but unremarkable. Lenser Alfredo Mayo’s crisp, unfussy shooting style suits the material and makes a sleek panorama of nighttime Madrid, but it could perhaps have benefited from some further textural variation.
The film opened briskly in Spain, where it kickstarted considerable media attention, and looks on its way to becoming the season’s top-grossing national release.