A Spanish contribution to the burgeoning genre of Iraq-themed anti-war movies, “Invader” is a highly charged, good-looking but deeply flawed thriller about governmental spin. The transformation of once-adventurous helmer Daniel Calparsoro into a purveyor of mainstream thriller fare seems complete, and while the first hour here is mostly taut and effective, subsequent developments are so rushed and visually noisy they drown out the interesting, politically provocative ideas the script has so carefully built up. Nevertheless, pic retains enough edge, particularly in its perfs and visuals, to generate fest and possible arthouse interest offshore.
Loosely adapting Fernando Marias’ novel, scripters Javier Gullon and Jorge Arenillas have stripped out most of the material’s psychological finesse. Early scenes establish the moral integrity of Pablo (Alberto Ammann, “Cell 211”), a doctor on a peace mission in Iraq who, alongside sidekick Diego (Antonio de la Torre), selflessly rescues a dying girl from the wreckage of a shelling and races her to the hospital. But their truck drives over a mine and explodes. Badly injured, the traumatized men make it to a nearby village, where they enter a house and are startled by the family that lives there; the traumatized Diego fatally shoots the men in the family.
All this is intercut with Spain-set scenes of Pablo’s slow recovery from amnesia, aided by wife Angela (Inma Cuesta) and small daughter Pilar (Sofia Oria). His gradual awakening to the horror of what has happened is signaled, with a typical lack of subtlety, by several gory flashes of a knife stabbing flesh.
Meanwhile, the village killings are being reported by the media as the dismantling of a terrorist cell; shady Spanish government employee Baza (Karra Elejalde, superbly fusing ennui and iciness) offers Pablo and Diego financial compensation if they sign confidentiality agreements that would reinforce the lie. Although Pablo’s government appears to be protecting him, his conscience — unlike Diego’s — prevents him from signing, despite Angela’s pleas.
There is enough plot material in the first 30 minutes alone for an entire movie, and indeed, it was enough for Marias’ novel. But the scripters add a new twist that drives the film into exciting but implausible Bond-Bourne territory, complete with struggles on a boat and in the surf and a well-done car chase.
The film’s key point — that it’s governments, rather than citizens, that represent the real threat — is well made, particularly in later scenes that draw neat visual parallels between Iraqi victims and Pablo, who’s increasingly isolated simply for wanting to do the right thing. (The script is quite perceptive about how tough it can be to know what the right thing actually is.)
But Pablo morphs too rapidly from a well-meaning if insecure individual into a single-minded action hero, and while Ammann delivers a brooding, intense performance, the dependable thesp can’t quite pull together the character’s two halves. The script’s apparent belief in a politically independent media, on which the entire final act hinges, likewise feels too simplistic.
Visually, “Invader” is tops, with powerfully rendered Iraq scenes shot in the Canary Islands; regular panoramas of the Galician coastline provide a beautiful but irrelevant counterpoint. Lucas Vidal’s score is standard thriller fare, omnipresent and often intrusive.