In October of 1944, after German forces had been driven out of Southern France, “Operation Reconquest” was set to begin. It’s main objective was to send several thousand exiled Spanish Maquis resistance fighters to liberate border territory and spark an uprising against the Francisco Franco dictatorship. To prepare for the operation, guerrilla commandos crossed the border to sabotage key strategic targets.
“The (Silent) War” (or “Sordo” if you go by its Spanish title) is an unabashedly pulpy manhunt thriller that begins with one of those guerrilla missions that goes terribly wrong. A group of revolutionaries led by old friends Anselmo (Asier Etxeandia) and Vicente (Hugo Silva) rig a bridge with dynamite. But the rebels unwittingly detonate it, killing most of their lot and drawing the attention of a nearby Spanish army patrol. A wounded Vicente is captured while Anselmo, now deaf from the blast, escapes into the forest.
The film comes from co-writer and director Alfonso Cortés-Cavanillas. It’s an adaptation of a Spanish graphic novel from David Muñoz and Rayco Pulido Rodríguez. The story begins as a harrowing wartime tale but it doesn’t take long for its graphic novel roots to seep through. Cortés-Cavanillas infuses his movie with an unmistakable Sergio Leone western vibe complete with horses, a long brown duster, and a lot of spitting. Top it off with scattered bursts of Tarantino-like graphic violence and you have an idea of what the movie is going for.
The story unfurls over a one-month period as Anselmo hides out in the mountains while a dogged Captain Bosch (Aitor Luna) stays hot on his trail. Fortunately for Anselmo, Bosch isn’t much of a strategist and his troops are a nondescript band of dimwits. This is one of the places where the script lets the film down. You have to ignore and overlook quite a bit of head-scratching incompetence. I’ll admit the buffoonery is kinda funny, but clearly not what the filmmakers intended.
Later Anselmo sneaks into a nearby village, the very one occupied by Bosch and his soldiers. There he seeks the help of Vicente’s wife Rosa (a very good Marian Alvarez) who joins us in thinking Anselmo is crazy for sticking around instead of heading for France. This also leads to a half-baked love angle that frankly feels yanked completely out of the blue.
It gets a little more cartoonish (and strangely that’s meant as a compliment) with the appearance of Soviet Lieutenant Darya Sergéevich Volkov (Olimpia Melinte). She’s the menacing cold-blooded sort with an eye-patch and a scar running from forehead to jaw just to emphasize that she’s REALLY bad news. She’s a dead-eye sniper who escaped Bolshevik Russia and now is a mercenary for the Spanish Army. Darya is actually quite fun with the exception of one brutally tasteless and off-putting scene.
The movie really shines in the style department. The western aesthetic gives it a needed kick and leads to several fun, high-energy action scenes. And the cinematography from Adolpho Cañadas grabs your eye from the film’s earliest moments. His camera captures the particulars of both genre and setting in a thrilling and often visceral way. And I have to mention the fantastic sound design. The clever use of sound as well as silence adds a ton to the movie.
While several story beats make no sense whatsoever (I didn’t even mention the goofy coyote synergy stuff), “The (Silent) War” still has enough verve and genre appeal to make for an entertaining two hours. And the good performances, gritty (and sometimes brutal) action, and technical savvy make it fairly easy to overlook some of the sillier story stuff.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS