The pistols of the title mostly hit their marks in Cesc Gay’s “A Gun in Each Hand,” a witty, perceptive dissection of midlife masculine insecurities that’s all about dialogue and what some fine thesps can do with it. Stringing together several mini-stories, each playing out in real time, this coolly comic entry is the latest addition to the helmer’s cinematic catalog of emotional anxieties, and its top-name Spanish-language talent is likely to open up a new audience for him in Hispanic territories. Otherwise, “Gun” should slot nicely into the fest circuit, where Gay already feels at home.
None of the male characters are fully named in either the script or the credits, presumably to suggest each one is Everyman under the microscope. In the first section, E (Eduard Fernandez) bumps into old friend J (Leonardo Sbaraglia) weeping in an elevator. It soon becomes clear that, although he’s out of work and love, and living with his mother, E is the happier of the two.
The second story has S (Javier Camara) dropping off his son with ex-wife Elena (Clara Segura). They divorced two years earlier at his request, but he’s now having second thoughts. In the next yarn, depressive G (Ricardo Darin) is shadowing his wife in a park when he bumps into L (Luis Tosar), followed by a vignette in which the dull P (Eduardo Noriega), after working for years in the same office as Mamen (Candela Pena, superb), gathers up the courage to talk to her. The final, least successful section draws parallels between two husband-wife pairings, in contrived fashion.
Though each tale offers a neat twist, there’s not much new in the pic’s portrait of men in their ’40s, which, like Gay’s other studies of emotional anxiety, maintains a clipped, restrained tone throughout. Still, the film feels entirely true in its depiction of middle-aged guys finally learning how to talk about themselves, and the dialogue is by turns acidly observant, hilarious and quotable, as when G notes, “People only break up because they want to fall in love again.”
Crucially, none of the characters seems stereotyped; the script by Gay and regular collaborator Tomas Aragay successfully evokes entire lives in the roughly 15 minutes each story is allotted. Perhaps unusually for a Spanish film about emotions, not a single voice is ever raised. These intelligent men have at least learned to control their passions, even if their feelings still leave them as baffled as ever. The women, though far from perfect and sometimes suspiciously cruel, are adults, but the men are still boys.
In the main, the performances are excellent, infusing the often tense exchanges with nuance. The dependable Camara does what he does best as a pathetically humiliated man trying to regain some dignity, but otherwise, Gay cannily casts against type. Sbaraglia, often a tousle-haired charmer, is a bag of nerves here; Tosar, best-known for his perf as a demonic jailbird in “Cell 211,” dons specs for the role of an eminently reasonable man; and Fernandez, the standout, replaces his standard threatening air with convincing vulnerability. But Noriega (“Blackthorn”) doesn’t fare as well, his sniveling and dull E occasionally coming over as borderline psychopathic.
The helmer’s longtime d.p., Andreu Rebes, keeps camera movement to a minimum, stylishly framing scenes and supplying a range of appealing pastels that occasionally look over-designed. Music is restrained and infrequent, though a tear-it-up Elvis Costello version of Little Richard’s “Bama Lama Bama Loo” over the final credits feels like a cathartic primal scream after all the quiet mutterings that have gone before.