Mladen and Del review ‘Below Zero’
“Below Zero” Starring Javier Gutiérrez, Karra Elejalde, Luis Callejo, Patrick Criado and others. Directed by Lluís Quílez. 106 minutes. Rated R (TV-MA). Captioned. Netflix.
I’ve seen only two Europe-built cop movies, the French-made “Bronx/Rogue City” and the Spanish-made “Below Zero.” It’s tough to imagine two more disparate films. I was far more impressed by the movie made south of the Pyrenees than the one produced north of the mountain range.
“Bronx” is a muddled drift into violent amorality, completely eliminating the distinction between what should be the good guys and what should be the bad guys. There is no tension between right and wrong in the film. Everybody is wrong. Del the intellect and Mladen the why-the-fuck-did-I-waste-my-time-watching-this-movie reviewed “Bronx.”
“Below Zero,” well, I’d consider watching this film if I were you. It’s nicely paced, albeit somewhat unbelievable in terms of handling a prisoner transport from one penitentiary to another.
I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Javier Gutiérrez as Martin, transition from straight-laced policeman to a man, a husband, and a father forced into breaking the law. Pay particular attention to the movie toward the very end. Toward the very end starts after Karra Elejade’s Miguel finishes a too-long exposition about a tragedy and the reason he’s chasing Nano, very nicely portrayed by Patrick Criado.
Seriously, even if you start to tire a bit, though you shouldn’t, as the cop drama unfolds, the last several minutes of the film are top notch. The trio of Martin, Miguel, and Nano confront each other. Each has a source of power. Martin, a cop badge. Miguel, heartbreak. Nano, knowledge and nihilism. Pay attention to Nano’s blurt and the grotesqueness of his grin at the very end and Martin’s non-verbal reaction to it. Terrific.
I don’t want to mislead you. The “Below Zero” trio aren’t Tuco, Blondie, and Angel Eyes from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” facing each other at the cemetery before a gunfight. But, the “Below Zero” principals are squared-off in a dead town. They’ve been shoved together by one event. Each represents one aspect of humanity: the moral violator of law, the justified violator of law, and the unrepentant law breaker. Oh, there is a pretty cool isolated frozen pond scene.
“Below Zero” is driven by a well-worn plot trope: Avenging the death of a loved one when conventional law enforcement fails. If you were an upstanding person and you’ve waited and waited for answers about missing kin that never come, what would you do? Would you be willing to sacrifice innocents or lesser criminals to get the answers?
“Below Zero” earns a B+ from me. If Del gives the movie anything less than a B, don’t pay attention. He may be pissed because I gave him the wrong title (I initially called the film “Absolute Zero”) and he had to burn time, though he has scads of it, to try to find the movie on any of the 3 billion streaming services now available to internet-addicted mankind.
Yippie ki yay, muchacho.
For a moment I thought I was watching an American shoot ’em up but no, this is a Spanish film in the spirit of “Death Wish” and “The Limey.” And while I enjoyed “Below Zero,” it is no “John Wick.”
Since ONCE AGAIN Mladen failed to provide a plot summary, allow me. Ahem:
Martin (Javiar Gutiérrez) is a police officer tasked with driving a prisoner transport over some empty, scary Spanish backroads at night. They’re taking a shortcut, which is movie code for “Are you out of your mind? The shortcuts only lead to mayhem!” The transport drives over a spike strip and is disabled. Meanwhile, their escorts end up shot to death, as does Martin’s partner, who goes to investigate. Martin takes refuge with the prisoners in the back of the transport and is taken hostage while the shooter, Miguel (Karra Elejalde), attempts to crack open the secure compartment. He’s determined to get his hands on one prisoner, Nano (Patrick Criado), the man accused of commiting a heinous crime that affected him personally. He wants, no, demands a certain piece of information from Nano.
Many of these movies are about situational ethics – is it OK to bludgeon somebody with a sledgehammer if they’re a monster? The entertainment value springs from the answer, which is often “Yes,” while in the world you and I inhabit we’d go to jail if we took the law into our own hands. “Below Zero” amps up the moral dilemma by posing the question to a police officer, a guy charged with upholding the law, no matter how unfair or unjust it seems.
But the central question casts a much larger shadow than fidelity to the law. The issue at stake is control. Gone are the days when a cantankerous old hombre, fed up with simpering townfolk and an annoying sheriff, could ride off into the sunset and find a place untroubled by laws, regulations or any other limiting mechanism. Each year the number of people on this earth goes up, the available resources go down, and the need to regulate and control what’s left grows exponentially. Without some form of overarching management the whole shootin’ match falls in on itself and the problem is solved by the collapse of civilization.
Movies like “Below Zero” provide us with a momentary respite from the heavy hand of Big Brother and all his uncles, cousins and nephews. What if we could just say “Eff it” to due process and deliver justice that is so dearly and clearly deserved? Well, we can if we live in the fictionalized world of “Below Zero.”
My problem with the movie is that while this notion of rebellion may seem novel to the fine folks of Seville, it’s yesterday’s entertainment to us quarrelsome, warmongering Americans. Our whole country is based on the principle of rebellion.
The movie is well put together and acted, but I think many folks on this side of the Atlantic will watch it and think it’s a light version of similarly themed American movies that have been around for years. Also, I predict a lot of people won’t take kindly to having to read subtitles.
I’ll give it a B so as not to rile up Mladen, and because while I thought it wasn’t especially original, I did enjoy watching it.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.