Spanish cinema rarely throws up thrillers worthy of the name, but "25 Carat" is the real thing.

Spanish cinema rarely throws up thrillers worthy of the name, but “25 Carat” is the real thing. As down-to-earth, wiry and taut as the ex-boxer it features, the pic never strays from the rulebook but brings enough verve and freshness to its gallery of archetypes to remind us that the rules are there for a reason. A first-class cast infuses this breathless yarn of life in Barcelona’s underbelly with a credibility it rarely loses. Despite occasional over-reach, “Carat” is the kind of rough gem that could work beyond the fest circuit. Pic went out locally April 24.

Kay (Aida Folch) is a car thief whose father, Sebas (Manuel Moron), is involved in bigger scams that until now, to her despair, have generally gone wrong. When a stash of stolen jewels is to be delivered to Sebas by corrupt cop Garro (Joan Massotkleiner), Sebas sees an opportunity: He’ll record the meeting with Garro and then threaten to sell the videotape to the press. But Sebas doesn’t realize Garro isn’t the only corrupt cop on the force.

Onetime pugilist-turned-debt collector Abel (Francesc Garrido) seems to recognize in Kay a good woman who’s been forced into criminality against her will, and so saves her from an encounter with the cops. Struggling to bring up his son Adrian (Marc Garcia) alone, Abel works for Domingo (Hector Colome), but his colleague Rocio (Maria Lanau) bears a grudge against Abel and is trying to get Domingo to fire him.

The plot twists and doubles back as the stakes satisfyingly rise, each scene turning the screws a little tighter, though leaving enough space for the script to develop the twin father-child relationships in the story. Dialogue is terse, with entire backstories revealed in a few well-chosen words. Things wrap up a little too tidily in the final reel, and the conclusion reps the only moment when the script bites off more than it can chew.

Characters are basically off-the-rack, but the thesps eke something new from their roles. As the emotionally damaged tough guy trying to lead a decent life, Garrido shows an unexpected gentleness, and Folch brings an unusual but satisfying optimism to the streetwise, 20-year-old Kay. As Sebas, the archetypal small-time loser, Moron brings immense pathos.

Shot in generally muted, ochre-ish tones, the pic has an intimate feel, with use of tight closeups (and a few too many jump cuts for comfort). The score is the least striking element, switching between electro-funk and predictable rock, and is most effective when it’s just electronic rumbling. Dialogue is largely in Spanish, with brief stretches of Catalan.

25 Carat

Spain

Production

A Golem release of an Iconica, Ovideo TV production, in association with TVE, TVC. (International sales: Iconica, Madrid.) Produced by Jose Nolla, Quique Camin. Directed, written by Patxi Amezcua.

Crew

Camera (color), Sergi Gallardo; editor, Lucas Nolla; music, Francisc Amat; art director, Lu Mascaro; sound (Dolby Digital), Dani Fontrodona. Reviewed at Cines Golem, Madrid, April 29, 2009. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Francesc Garrido, Aida Folch, Manuel Moron, Joan Massotkleiner, Hector Colome, Maria Lanau, Marc Garcia. (Spanish, Catalan dialogue)

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