You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

This fact-based Spanish yarn of personal and political corruption confirms director Alberto Rodriguez as a crossover-ready talent.

Eduard Fernandez, Jose Coronado, Carlos Santos, Marta Etura, Alba Galocha, Enric Benavent, Philippe Rebbot, Pedro Casablanc, Israel Elejalde, Tomas Del Estal, Jons Pappila, Luis Callejo, Mireia Portas, Craig Stevenson. (Spanish, French, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1713440/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_2

It may only represent the film’s Spanish distribution route, but there’s something entirely apt-feeling about the familiar Warner Bros. badge at the front of Alberto Rodriguez’s “Smoke and Mirrors”: This slick-as-Brylcreem political thriller may deal entirely in local affairs, but every gleaming nut and bolt of its assembly advertises its helmer’s suitability for U.S. studio fare. Following up his internationally acclaimed regional noir “Marshland” with a larger-scale study of institutional corruption, Rodriguez’s seventh feature proficiently borrows moves from Scorsese, Sorrentino and a surfeit of other stylists to tell the fact-inspired story of sometime spy Francisco Paesa, whose mid-1990s involvement in a former police chief’s embezzlement operation left no line un-double-crossed. A good yarn that nonetheless takes a while to disentangle itself from an overly convoluted setup, “Smoke and Mirrors” is possibly not as universally exportable as the directorial verve it showcases, but it’ll clean up domestically.

“Smoke and Mirrors” is an unnecessarily banal English-language title for a film that, from the first words of its weary-wry voiceover, hardly needs to remind viewers that it’s dealing in matters of shadowy duplicity. (The equally uninspired Spanish title translates to “The Man of a Thousand Faces” — Rodriguez’s film gets away with taking several generic Hollywood cues, but could use a more evocative moniker.) “Like all true stories, it contains a few lies,” our narrator quips in clipped, gravelly tones, promising all the moral fortitude you’d expect from a story of high-ranking government officials and one canny double agent — as well as metatextually covering for the liberties Rodriguez and co-writer Rafael Cobos Lopez have themselves taken with the truth, using Manuel Cerdan’s non-fiction book “Paesa: The Spy of a Thousand Faces” as a mere jumping-off point.

The storyteller here is Jesus Camoes (played by Jose Coronado), a secondary figure whose significance in the knotty plotting isn’t quite apparent until the second half; even then, however, his complicity in the action is never complete. As the film’s introduction skips across years and darts through fundamental political backstory with the briskly ironic tone of many a “GoodFellas” tribute act, it may takes viewers some time to identify Paesa (played with a persistent dry smirk by Eduard Fernandez) as its slippery center. A preternaturally smooth operator who had enjoyed careers as a banker, an arms dealer and a spy — among other things — before the Spanish government sold him out and forced him into exile, he returns to Madrid in 1995 with no work prospects and a sizable chip on his well-tailored shoulder.

So when he’s approached by Luis Roldan (Carlos Santos), a former national police commissioner looking to safeguard 12 million pesetas embezzled from public funds, Paesa spots an opportunity to get his own back at the big guys — setting an elaborate plan of revenge and betrayal in motion. It’s a tall tale that, given a little more levity, could well have been titled “Spanish Hustle,” though while Rodriguez keeps tension and momentum rolling over a well-stuffed two hours, he hasn’t David O. Russell’s eye or ear for absurd or eccentric human detail; the characters serve the caper, not the other way round. Nor does the film’s heavily doctored take on recent Spanish political history cut particularly deep as satire — though local audiences will appreciate its flip anti-authority stance. (Viewers at the San Sebastian premiere jeered heartily in response to one ministerial figure’s insistence that “the Spanish government has never made any deals.”)

For the most part, however, the chief pleasures of “Smoke and Mirrors” are ones of sleek mainstream craftsmanship: Even at its most narratively cluttered points, the film is built and steered like a luxury sedan. Rodriguez has retained the services of his regular cinematographer Alex Catalan; while the caramelized look they’ve forged here isn’t as distinctive as the sunbaked underworld of their previous collaboration in “Marshland,” the deep, warm tones and nimble mobility of the camera help pull us into many a scene that otherwise amounts to little more than middle-aged men in blazers talking.

Editor Jose M.G. Moyano does similarly persuasive work with potentially repetitive material, while Julio de la Rosa’s driving, rock-tinged score — sounding at its most heated points like a polished-up Cream instrumental — may not do much for the film’s Spanish milieu, but sounds wholly Hollywood-ready. “In the game of evolution, the winners are usually the specialists,” a character says in one of the script’s more overworked lines; Rodriguez, on the other hand, looks primed for anything.

Film Review: 'Smoke and Mirrors'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection), Sept. 17, 2016. Running time: 123 MIN. (Original title: "El hombre de las mil caras")

Production: (Spain) A Warner Bros. (in Spain) presentation of Zeta Audivisual, Atresmedia Cine, Atipica Films, Sacromonte Films, Telefonica Studios, El Espia de la Mil Caras production in association with Atresmedia, Movistar+, Canal Sur, Triodos Bank, Crea SGR. (International sales: Filmn Factyory Entertainment, Barcelona.) Produced by Antonio Asensio, Jose Antonio Felez, Francisco Ramos, Mikel Lejarza, Mercedes Gamero, Gervasio Iglesias. Executive producer, Jose Antonio Felez.

Crew: Directed by Alberto Rodriguez. Screenplay, Rodriguez, Rafael Cobos Lopez, based on the book "Paesa, el espia de las mil caras" by Manuel Cerdan. Camera (color, widescreen), Alex Catalan; editor, Jose M.G. Moyano.

With: Eduard Fernandez, Jose Coronado, Carlos Santos, Marta Etura, Alba Galocha, Enric Benavent, Philippe Rebbot, Pedro Casablanc, Israel Elejalde, Tomas Del Estal, Jons Pappila, Luis Callejo, Mireia Portas, Craig Stevenson. (Spanish, French, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Honored

    Thierry Frémaux, José Luis Rebordinos Named Honorary Argentine Academy Members

    BUENOS AIRES — In a ceremony just before Friday’s prize announcements at Ventana Sur, Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux and José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian Festival, were named honorary members of Argentina’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in a new move for the Academy, out through by its new president, Bernardo [...]

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content