20 June 2016

EIFF 2016 Review - To Steal From A Thief (Cien años de perdón)

Acclaimed Spanish director Daniel Calparsoro returns to feature filmmaking with heist flick To Steal from a Thief (Cien Anos de Perdon). The Valencia-set thriller follows a group of highly-organised criminals who become trapped in the bank they are trying to rob. With the authorities massing outside matters are further complicated by a corrupt government group who wish to destroy something in one of the vaults.

It’s easy for heist films to slip through the cracks: there’s so many of them and there can only be so many surprising variations on the old ‘guys in a bank’ business. Yet, Calparsoro is clearly an experienced director of action thrillers, there’s an effortless feeling to the film, a snappy energy which springs us from scene to scene, the flow lubricated by great performances and smart ideas.

Luis Tosar gives a great performance as the hot-headed Gallego but scriptwriter Jorge Guerricaechevarria gives him more to play with than many of his other, darker, roles (see Shrew’s Nest). Aside from a more layered tough-guy persona, Tosar benefits greatly from his co-stars, not least the superb Rodrigo De la Serna (The Motorcycle Diaries). Serna and Tosar make a watchable duo of no-bullshit thieves, their sparky relationship only gets better and better until the two reveal a much softer, more lovable side in the film’s last act.

Oddly, To Steal from a Thief really manages to humanise its band of crooks, even when they are rough-housing hostages. Calparsoro’s film is nothing if not a highly politicized and enraged attack on the economic strife and government corruption of Spain as a whole. The “thief” of the title is the Spanish government and at no point does script nor film succumb to rendering its bank robbers as villians. On the contrary, the film does everything it can to let people explain why they have to steal; whilst the government is characterized as a shadowy group of suited snakes, desperate to save their skin from exposure. Special mention goes to Jose Coronado for embodying this shadowy sect almost single-handedly.

Technically, the film is perfectly edited and nicely shot. The decision to film Valencia in the pouring rain is a change from the usual Mediterranean exploitation. This would have been a very different film in the blistering heat, not simply because the narrative itself revolves around the problems caused by rain, but because the entire atmosphere of the film is altered by the weather. To Steal from a Thief inherits a Noir vibe through that cynical downtrodden weather and a constant distrust of authority.

A well-rounded and impressive thriller that delivers everything you want from this kind of story: great cast, sharp-witted action, nice shooting, and a good story. Some people could be put off by the overwrought government conspiracy side, especially when the film ditches a key character initially devised to carry us into the story and its discussion on corruption. But it’s not enough to spoil the fun.

An impressive, swift, and engaging thriller with a lot of frustration to vent , To Steal From a Thief is worth a watch if you like your thrillers fast and smart.

★★★ 1/2 |Scott Clark

Crime, Thriller, World Cinema | Spain, Argentina, 2016 | 2016 Edinburgh Film Festival | Dir.Daniel Calparsoro | Luis Tosar, Rodrigo De la Serna, Raúl Arévalo, Patricia Vico

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