Inaki Dorronsoro’s punchy “The Distance” is the latest in a sudden spate of pugilistically inclined movies from Spain — and serves as further evidence that the country can now deliver a decent thriller. Pic is a polished, well-plotted noir item that provides all the thrills, though it clings too desperately to genre stereotypes to ever become anything richer. Brooding atmospherics, a tightly wrought plotline that throws is best shots in its second half and a clutch of effective perfs, particularly from Jose Coronado and Miguel Angel Silvestre, are the hallmarks of an item that should find a home at fests, with the odd offshore screening in Spain-friendly territories also an option.
Daniel (Miguel Angel Silvestre, whose impressive muscles belie a subtly wrought perf) has always been held back from being the champ because of his conservative fighting style.
In prison as an accomplice to murder, he is visited by corrupt cop Guillermo (the superb Jose Coronado), who’s holding evidence that will further implicate him. Guillermo threatens Daniel with further punishment if he doesn’t kill nightclub owner Salgado (Carlos Kaniowsky), who’s also in jail.
Daniel duly takes Salgado out and, his crime undetected, comes out of jail keen to re-establish himself as a fighter. But his coach (the dependable Federico Luppi) is reluctant to work with a criminal, promising him just one last fight. Daniel watches Salgado’s funeral from a distance and follows Salgado’s wife, world-weary former hooker Raquel (Belen Lopez); somewhat implausibly, he falls for her.
Meanwhile Raquel is being protected by a police chief (Lluis Homar), who suspects Daniel of Salgado’s murder. When Guillermo finds out about Daniel and Raquel, he gives the kid a good beating, and it emerges that Guillermo himself is attracted to Daniel.
The script proceeds to deal with high-level corruption and illicit emotions in time-honored noir fashion, the complex plot delivering perhaps too many efficient twists and turns. The homoerotic component is a novelty, but apart from that, the plot is strictly rulebook, right down to the set-piece fight scenes. The quality of the perfs means intensity is well sustained, despite moments of implausibility, though the Daniel/Raquel relationship never takes off.
Silvestre, who did daily six-hour workouts to craft his body for the role, is up to scratch as a young man in the grip of forces he doesn’t understand, but he’s overshadowed by Coronado, playing, a darkly tormented and complex figure whose internal conflicts manifest themselves in awful violence. Coronado’s searching, driven perf brings out all this and more.
Apart from these two perfs, however, the other actors struggle against stereotype — surely not all boxing coaches, for instance,have to be wise old father figures.
Lensing, making maximum use of contrast and gray scale, is workmanlike and sometimes eye-catching in its rendition of the backstreets. The over-the-top orchestral score adequately underscores mood, but is often heavy-handed.