'No Rest for the Wicked'

Film noir and contempo Spain make a near-perfect match in the explosive "No Rest for the Wicked," the kind of movie that gives dramas about bad cops a good name.

Film noir and contempo Spain make a near-perfect match in the explosive “No Rest for the Wicked,” the kind of movie that gives dramas about bad cops a good name. Featuring a grippingly visceral central perf by Jose Coronado as a policeman who makes a big mistake at the outset and spends the remainder of the film paying for it, pic is credible, fast-moving, hard-nosed fare, confirming helmer Enrique Urbizu’s reputation as one of Spain’s sharper genre helmers. Spanish crix and auds have warmed to “Wicked,” with offshore play a possibility for fans of upscale thrillers.

Santos Trinidad (Coronado) is a grizzled cop who, with his cowboy boots and gunslinger swagger, is living out a desperado fantasy. An alcoholic with a troubled past, he wanders into a bar and, after a brief argument, shoots three people dead. A fourth (Karim El-Kerem), however, escapes. In a few beautifully compact scenes, Trinidad expertly covers his tracks and goes in search of the witness.

Inspector Chacon (Helena Miquel), aided by Leiva (Juanjo Artero), is assigned to the case, and thereafter the pic shuttles between their pursuit of Trinidad and Trinidad’s pursuit of the Colombian witness. Trinidad realizes the escapee is involved in drug trafficking and, with the help of nightclub dancer Celia (Nadia Casado), he succeeds in tracking down police informant Rachid (Younes Bachir) at about the same time Chacon does. It becomes clear the game doesn’t stop with trafficking: The Colombian mafia and North African terrorists are in cahoots.

Urbizu’s work has always had a subversive edge, but this time he pulls out all the stops, as “No Rest for the Wicked” doubles as an excoriating examination of police incompetence in the lead-up to the Madrid 2004 bombings. The satisfyingly tricky plot does become a bit turgid in the second act, overloaded by a surfeit of minor characters; everything surplus to the action has been whittled away, meaning that most of the supporting roles remain on the wrong side of stereotype, including Santos’ young sidekick Rodolfo (Rodolfo Sancho) and the incorruptible cops played by Chacon and Leiva.

Only Urbizu stalwart Coronado is permitted a full character, but what a remarkable character he is — psychopathic and obnoxious to the core, a man nobody loves, by his own admission, but who doesn’t seem to care. Consuming rum and smoking to the extent that one fears for the thesp’s own health, Coronado nonetheless manages to evoke some real sympathy for Trinidad’s plight as he desperately sets about wiping away the traces of a murder whose reasons he himself doesn’t entirely understand. (The character’s moniker, a pun on “Holy Trinity,” reps one of the pic’s less subtle ironies.) Whether excruciatingly sewing up a knife wound in his stomach or oddly muttering “rock ‘n’ roll” in English, Coronado is gripping.

Pic loves its noir iconography, never passing up the chance to exploit a shadow or shoot a scene through a half-empty glass. Locations are recognizably Madrid in the aughts, with shopping malls, wasteland outskirts and dingy nightclubs all reinvented by lenser Unax Mendia as noir locations.

Amid all the tumult, pic finds time for moments of bleak humor and even lyricism; following a bloody knife fight, a disturbed butterfly is seen fluttering away.

No Rest for the Wicked

Spain

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a LaZona Films, Telecinco Cinema, Manto Films production in association with AXN, Canal Plus. (International sales: Filmax Intl., Barcelona.) Produced by Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson, Alvaro Augustin. Executive producer, Javier Ugarte. Directed by Enrique Urbizu. Screenplay, Urbizu, Michel Gaztambide.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Unax Mendia; editor, Pablo Blanco; music, Mario de Benito; art director, Anton Laguna; costume designer, Patricia Monne; sound (Dolby Digital), Licio Marcos de Oliveira, Nacho Royo-Villanova; casting, Tonucha Vidal, Andres Cuenca. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 19, 2011. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Jose Coronado, Helena Miquel, Rodolfo Sancho, Juanjo Artero, Pedro Maria Sanchez, Karim El-Kerem, Nasser Saleh, Nadia Casado, Younes Bachir.

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