|Grupo Siete: Sí, somos badasses.|
Spain's always been pretty hip. They were Islamic less than a century after the Prophet (before everyone else was into it, etc etc), you gotta love any country capable of winning the World Cup AND a gold medal in Olympic basketball—which could totally happen if Dwight Howard's back is actually injured; for bigs, Spain has the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, the latter of whom represents a truly awesome blatant bit of underhandedness, as Mr. Ibaka is from the Congo, and the only reason he plays for Spain internationally is because fuck you, that's why—and there's Ibiza, Gaudi in Barcelona, Elena Anaya, Penelope Cruz. Basically what I'm saying is, Spain's really going out of its way to ingratiate itself to me. That opening shot in Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone just fucking basking is like the whole country is like “Hey, minus the accent, acting talent, and ability to not shit yourself when Ian McShane is pissed at you, THIS COULD BE YOU, BOWES!” The latest in Spain's outreach campaign is director Alberto Rodriguez's cop drama Unit 7 (original title: Grupo 7). They have Elena Anaya, basketball, and ownage? I may have to emigrate.
Unit 7 tells the story of a special police detail, assigned to eliminate (or eliminate the appearance of) the drug trade in Sevilla in preparation for the 1992 Expo. They've got four years. Over the course of those years, the unit's ruthless pursuit of its goal causes them to run afoul of Internal Affairs, the media, their significant others, and, of course, the dealers. It's a pretty standard cop movie scenario, because there are only so many cop movie scenarios to choose from, but like the best cop movies, it uses its policier aspects as a template, into which it fills in its real concerns. In this case, that's the observation that institutional power values appearances over reality, and that in the pursuit of those squeaky-clean appearances, the cops are even more in danger of losing their souls than their lives.
Inescapably, any urban cop story (especially one with parallels this direct) is going to be compared to The Wire, though Unit 7's cynicism about institutions bleeds down to color the foot soldiers as well. Grupo Siete don't blink at stealing heroin to suborn junkies into snitching, or beating the living fuck out of unarmed suspects to make a point, or straight going rogue and lighting recalcitrant dealers up like Nochevieja. On the other hand, though Grupo Siete pulls some pretty skeevy shit in the interests of eliminating Sevilla's drug problem, they're not bad guys; it's a little hard to root for them at times, but ultimately one gets the sense that their circumstances bear a lot of the responsibility for their bad deeds.
The two main cops in the unit, the young, ambitious Angel (Mario Casas) and the hardened, volatile veteran Rafael (Antonio de la Torre) end up gradually turning into one another: Angel starts out the naïve young kid with the pretty wife and kid and ends up becoming consumed by an ends-justify-the-means attitude toward his job and ambition. Rafael, on the other hand, is mean as a fuckin snake at the outset but finds some degree of serenity in an unconventional and unexpected relationship. Both actors are goddamn outstanding at conveying all this, and the story does a beautifully economical job of doling out exposition, doing a better job telling a story through what it omits than most movies do leaving everything in.
So the acting and narrative parts are all excellent, but ho boy the ownage sequences are fuckin outta sight. As ownage goes it's naturalistically derived, so you don't get the weaponized refrigerators of The Raid: Redemption, the sliding down the bannister with a toothpick in your mouth two-gun-shooting dozens of bad guys of Hard Boiled, or Albert Finney's fuckin Hanukah tommy gun in Miller's Crossing that kept continuously firing for eight days and nights. But those movies all exist, so you can watch them if you want to see that kind of thing. When people get owned in Unit 7, it's pretty much like someone getting owned in real life, except boosted by a factor of 1.2 or so because the sound design provides a subtle (and, frankly, necessary) heightening so that there's no mistake about the fact that whoever's getting owned is getting fucking owned, but it doesn't strain credibility.
When Unit 7 ends, it kind of feels like you just put down a James Ellroy novel. It's not exactly a happy feeling, but it's a feeling of having been in the presence of something really fucking well done. And, you know, the occasionally disturbing violence (there's one scene in particular just over halfway through about which dog lovers should be cautioned) and the overwhelming cynicism that comes invariably from spending too long pondering the realities of institutional law enforcement. Though, it should be said, a movie as well-done as Unit 7 carries with that slightly melancholy feeling an undercurrent of exhilaration, of having come through an adventure alive.
A well-done character study has its own reward, as is a well-done ownage picture, but both at the same time is occasion to take notice. Unit 7 is being distributed by Warner Bros, so keep an eye out either in the trades or my Twitter, whichever you prefer, cuz the second I hear about when the rest of y'all can check this out, I'm going to be urging anyone who likes cop movies and/or ownage to go see this joint. It's really fuckin good, people.