El Lobo
(The Wolf)

El Lobo (The Wolf)
Made in: Spain
Language: Spanish, Euskera
Director: Miguel Courtois
Starring: Eduardo Noriega, José Coronado, Melanie Doutey, Silvia Abascal, Patrick Bruel
Year: 2004

Synopsis: Based on a true story. The year is 1973, near the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain. José-María (Eduardo Noriega), or Txema for short, is the owner of a small construction company in the Spanish region known as El País Basco (Basque Country).

He has sympathies for the Basque separatist movement, and one night, he agrees to harbor members of ETA (which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna). ETA, as you may know, is the terrorist group that supports liberation of the region, often through violent means.

But when the ETA members use the location of Txema's home as a convenient starting point to commit a murder, Txema is arrested by the Spanish Secret Service, known at the time as SECED. Ricardo (José Coronado), a SECED case officer, wants to enlist Txema as a mole to infiltrate one of the most violent cells within ETA.

At first, Txema refuses, but once his construction company is shut down (with the help of SECED), he reluctantly agrees to Ricardo's plan in exchange for money to feed his family.

As Txema makes his way up the ETA ranks, his wife Begoña (Silvia Abascal), believes he's become a terrorist and leaves him. Then, Txema meets Amaia (Mélanie Doutey), an ambitious ETA sympathizer eager to do anything to prove herself (if you know what I mean).

Traveling between Spain and ETA hideouts in France, Txema starts learning about the deep divisions between the group's leadership. The feared leader of the Madrid branch, Nelson (Patrick Bruel), is insistent on committing acts of terror. But the intellectual Asier (Jorge Sanz) wants to achieve Basque freedom peacefully through the creation of a political wing. Power struggles often end in bloodshed.

After the bold assassination of Carrero Blanco, Franco's hand-picked successor, at the hands of an ETA cell, SECED launches an all-out campaign against the terrorists. As a result of political infighting within ETA and SECED, Txema finds himself on the run from both terrorists and agents of a fascist government.

The Good: From a cinematic perspective, El Lobo is shot in a way that really looks as though it was made in the 1970s, and therefore looks very authentic. Eduardo Noriega, as always, does a great job playing an intense protagonist.

Director Miguel Courtois creates a well-paced, methodical story that neither drags nor eschews historical accuracy in favor of entertainment value. The strongest part about the film is the nonpolitical, clear-headed message that a terrorist group operating under Marxist philosophy isn't all that different from an authoritarian, fascist dictatorship bent on oppressing its own citizens.

The Bad: Miguel Courtois needs to learn how to properly film a shootout. I'm not saying he should have went for a stylized, John Woo-like experience, but the action sequences in El Lobo were mostly incoherent and awkwardly edited. It was also a little hard to tell the ETA members apart from each other, because most of them had beards, looked like each other, and even wore similar clothes. When certain characters were captured or killed, it was difficult to remember who was who.

Who would like this movie: El Lobo is for you if you like Eduardo Noriega, foreign films, tales of espionage, and have an interest in Spanish history. You'd also like this movie if you're knowledgeable with ETA and the political motivations behind terrorism.

It's not a bad movie overall, but not really one I'd recommend if you're just looking to be entertained. If you want to check it out, do a little bit of research on Spain under Franco, and the origins of ETA first.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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