The social and political dynamics of 1921 Barcelona were volatile to say the least. As labor strikes and protests gave way to civil unrest, a number of groups pounced at the opportunity to exploit the boiling tensions between anarchists and authorities. Corrupt police, gangs, the bourgeoisie, and even Primo de Rivera’s military found ways to use the turmoil for their benefits.
“Gun City” (previously titled “The Shadow of the Law”) recreates the powder keg that was Barcelona while telling a story that pulls from a variety of movie genres. Director Dani de la Torre pays a lot of attention to the social issues (some of which feel quite relevant for today) yet also makes a movie that is highly cinematic in both structure and presentation.
The film opens with a violent train robbery. We learn the mysterious robbers swiped a stockpile of war-bound rifles which if put in the wrong hands could turn Barcelona into a war zone. Officer Aníbal Uriarte (Luis Tosar) arrives into town to help with the police’s investigation. He is assigned to the Information Brigade – a four-man squad ran by the crooked Inspector Rediú (Vicente Romero) who has his hand in several nefarious side dealings.
Screenwriter Patxi Amezcua’s main story thread follows Uriarte through the investigation but from a unique perspective. He’s much of an observer who (like us) is soaking in Rediú’s process (both legal and shady). This opens the door for a handful of side-stories all of which eventually intersect. One follows a sleazy gangster/ nightclub owner (Manolo Solo) and his captive dancer and main attraction (Adriana Torrebejano). Another centers on the growing tensions within the revolutionaries ranks. Their labor leader Ortiz (Paco Taos) pushes for peaceful protests while young firebrand Leon (Jaime Lorente) believes it is time to take up arms. Caught in the middle is Ortiz’s dedicated but principled daughter Sara (Michelle Jenner).
Not only does “Gun City” juggle a handful of story angles but it also dips into several different movie genres – crime, action, romance, and even sociopolitical thriller. It’s quite the undertaking and de la Torre mostly gets it right in driving his characters and their narratives. The story remarkably stays on point, never feeling unfocused while always remaining entertaining.
Cinematographer Josu Inchaustegui gives “Gun City” a fantastic look loaded with style and snappy visual flourishes. He often uses panning cameras as well as some interesting points of view. I particularly loved one specific close-quarter fight sequence inside the cab of a car. It’s shot in one continuous take with the camera slowly moving around the vehicle. It’s one of the many crafty uses of the camera peppered all through this movie.
Amid its plethora of thick mustaches and stony gazes lies an absorbing piece of Spanish cinema that comes across as a genre stew with a social conscience. But don’t let that description fool you. “Gun City” hits its target. It delves into several strong themes, is never boring, and features fine performances throughout. Will the genre bouncing appeal to all audiences? That’s hard to tell, but it definitely worked for me.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS