NZIFF 51: The Realm Dir: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

If you like your political intrigue visceral and nail-bitingly tense this Spanish thriller will get your vote.

The Realm follows a corrupt politician Manuel ‘Manu’ Lopez Vidal, who on the cusp of a top position in the party ranks has his political life come crashing down, and he threatens to take his party with him.

Rather playing to his constituents director Rodrigo Sorogoyen takes the conservative political drama and whips up a cracking thriller, with pulsating electro dance music and kinetic camera-work from long-time collaborator Alejandro de Pablo.

You wouldn’t normally associate political thrillers with electronic music, but in the vein of M83’s soundtrack to crime thriller Suburra (NZIFF 2016) Olivier Arson’s adds a pulsating background with his Goya-winning score here.

Co-written with Isabel Pena, the whip smart plot and dialogue will make your head spin. Fans of House of Cards, The Contender and Frost / Nixon will revel in this.

The film picked up seven Goyas (Spanish Oscars) including Best Picture and Best Actor. Well-deserved for lead Antonio de la Torre who is captivating as Manu, a master manipulator who would leave Francis Underwood shaking in his boots.

Torre nails that fine line one has to walk playing an unlikeable lead, charming and subtle Torre’s Manu will pat you on the back as he twists the knife. He’s supported by great character actors who inject each despised politician with their own flair.

Which what makes this all-too-realistic portrayal of power and greed a squirmingly good watch. This political shark swims from backdoor meeting to hotel rendezvous to try and stay afloat, or at least drag down his former allies with him.

Gripping stuff, with tension kicking up again and again as the shady scheming and the all-encompassing scandal unravels.

When you think you can’t handle it, the filmmakers find another twist to ratchet it up in one of the best last third of a thriller I’ve seen for a long time. As Manu’s arrogance pushes him to the last resort, the twists and turns of an action packed finale will leave you gasping for breath.

Clayton Barnett