As efficient and thriller-ish as his 2004 hit, “El lobo,” Miguel Courtois’ “GAL” is a less punchy inquiry into a murky episode in Spain’s past — the government’s 1980s “dirty war” on ETA (Basque) terrorists. Following two journalists as they plunge ever deeper into the moral tangle of where terrorism ends and the state begins, pic seems unsure about whether to settle a historical score or to provide an entertaining ride. As a result, it doesn’t fully convince either way, suggesting that offshore interest beyond fests and Spanish-language territories will be slower than on “Lobo.”
Locally, critics’ judgment has been clouded by the fact that the film was funded by El Mundo, the same newspaper that launched the real-life investigation. And exec producer Melchor Miralles was one of the investigating journos.
GAL — the Spanish government’s anti-terrorist wing — was quiet for a year when suddenly an innocent man was blown up in France. He was not GAL’s first innocent victim.
Journos Manuel (Jose Garcia) and Marta (Natalia Verbeke), working under editor Pablo (Abel Folk), get an anonymous tip and are soon on the trail of GAL head Ariza (Jordi Molla).
As the complex tale unwinds involving high-level government corruption and incompetence, both of the journalists get roughed up by heavies. The narrative shuttles ably between present and past, introducing a plethora of lawyers, mercenaries and politicians. (French thesp Bernard le Coq has been dubbed into Spanish to sound like real-life ex-president Felipe Gonzalez.)
Eventually, Ariza’s former g.f., Soledad (Ana Alvarez), agrees to testify against him. Story descends into farce in the final reels, however, as Ariza unwittingly arrests an innocent old-timer.
Pic only rarely shakes off its methodical air: Scripter Antonio Onetti’s desire to stick close to the truth as he sees it allows opportunities for suspense to be lost.
Histrionics are Molla’s hallmark as a thesp, and here the excess suits the character of Ariza. But Garcia and Verbeke are lightweight heroes and never quite overcome the suspicion they’re doing all this as a career move rather than for ethical reasons.
Crisp visuals are proficient without being striking, and Francesc Giner’s score (imitating a ticking bomb) is suitably ominous.