This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
“You do know this has got subtitles, yeah?”
“It just that some people don’t, you see.”
“Umm…How? It’s called El Lobo. Even the title’s in foreign.”
“No it’s not. It’s Lobo.”
Not being in the most argumentative of moods, the exchange between theOneliner and the cinema cashier was left at this stage, although had we been in more of an ignorance-banishing mood the next line perhaps ought to have been, “Our words are backed by the BBFC and IMDb and your cinema’s own website. How much faith do you have in the cinemonkey who typed the film listings onto your screens?”
That would have taught her. That would have taught her good.
Which is mostly beside the point, but as apparently it’s an area of some public concern it at least points out that El Lobo does indeed have subtitles. It has subtitles because it’s a Spanish film based on the story of a man recruited by Spanish Secret Police to infiltrate the notorious Basque separatist terrorist organisation ETA, seeking freedom for their right to sing uninspiring anthems through the mediums of theft, murder and bombs. Lovely people.
Txema (Eduardo Noriega) has been rather reluctantly drawn into this mess, his ETA sympathising mates using his family’s home as a temporary safe house. He’s not so down with the planned killing of the local taxi driver on the flimsy premise that they sort of think he’s an informer, maybe. While his half-hearted attempt to warn him fails, it marks him out as a prospective ally for Secret Police bigwig Ricardo (Jos? Coronado), after a little gentle persuasion is applied. In this case it’s to ruin his business. Lovely person.
Infiltrating the echelons of ETA organisation comes at a cost measured not only in personal risk, the stresses caused separating Txema from his loving wife and child. It’s not all bad though, as it does give him the sports racin’ codename of El Lobo (The Wolf) and open up the possibility of balaclava-clad boot-knocking with ETA extremist glamour puss Amaia (M?lanie Doutey), a possibility that is duly fulfilled.
Joining a cell and working his way up to a position of trust supplying a natty line of safehouses with a slight bug infestation, he gets into a unique position, from the cop’s perspective, of being close to the leaders of the organisation, Aseir (Jorge Sanz), who’s now leaning towards a move to a political process and Nelson (Patrick Bruel), who’s still happy with the whole bombing thing.
All of which comes to a head when Generalissimo Franco begins the process of shuffling off the mortal coil and what I shall refer to as ‘The Protectorate Of Spain’, high ranking military officials over-rule Ricardo’s protests, taking over his role and launching a huge sting operation on every known ETA member. Including El Lobo.
While El Lobo is based on the true story, we all know how that statement plays out in cinema. Thus I enter my usual catch all disclaimer that I’m not judging this as a historical document, but as a classic 70’s Dodge Charger. Wait, that’s not right. As a film. Yes, that seems more appropriate.
And it’s quite a good one. The timeframe allows for a fantastic period soundtrack and a equally fantastic array of facial hair. Some would classify facial hair as being of little true significance in the grand scheme of a film, but that only shows their breathtaking ignorance. Fine mustachios make a film the stuff of legends.
In strict cinematic terms I doubt there’s much here you haven’t seen before, although perhaps not in Spanish. Undercover cop, dangerous assignments, screwed over by his superiors, so on, so forth. What El Lobo manages to do is build a sympathetic lead, in no small part thanks to an accomplished turn from Noreaga, keep everything barreling along at a decent pace and build up a good dose of intrigue and suspense. Oh, and have some top drawer interpersonal tensions.
There is, if we’re being honest, precious little wrong with El Lobo. There’s a strange fascination with watching blood stream away from bodies in short, horrible rivers after some of the incidentally well realised and unavoidable moments of violence. This sticks out somewhat amongst the rest of the more kinetic camerawork, although I mention this only due to a lack of other things of note to mention. It doesn’t perhaps have quite the chops to push it into the upper strata of classics, but it’s certainly a damn good film.