Spanish heist thriller To Steal from a Thief (Cien años de perdón) gets its UK premiere at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. Directed by Daniel Calparsoro, the film boasts a slick aesthetic and an initially tense-set up, but desire to stretch the narrative in the latter half does more harm than good.
Opening in a torrential downpour in Valencia, To Steal from a Thief focuses on a bank heist that begins to go dramatically wrong. A career-destroying chain of political corruption is discovered within the contents of a safety deposit box, triggering a tense battle between authorities on the outside and the robbers with a winning hand.
Calparsoro builds a stirring atmosphere in the initial stages of To Steal from a Thief – with the rain-soaked Valencia setting channelling the brooding unease of the impending bank robbery captured through a variety of aerial shots. When Calparsoro begins the robbery sequence he does so with an engaging gusto and real sense of unease as he tests how far these men will go in their lust for riches. However, interestingly screenwriter Jorge Guerricaechevarría never portrays these men as real villains, allowing us to root for them in a perverse way. Perhaps related to contemporary financial crises around the world, these robbers have an off-kilter Robin Hood charm about them – especially when faced with exposing the corruption of a privileged political elite.
This tension carries on throughout To Steal from a Thief as the men get the loot they require and attempt to escape the now-surrounded bank. An attempted escape through a flooded underground tunnel is a particular highlight. However, the second half of Guerricaechevarría’s marks a shift in tone as more time is devoted to exploring the outside agencies’ attempts to suppress any political scandal emerging from our protagonists discovery. There’s a noticeable dip in energy and tension as we are subjected to watching countless high profile individuals making phone calls, unclear of certain character’s roles and their involvement in the narrative. It quickly becomes tiresome and somewhat lethargic viewing. There are slight boosts of energy as the robbers attempt to make various escapes from the bank, but these are too often bogged down by overlong negotiation scenes.
Fortunately a convincing ensemble of actors ensure that To Steal from a Thief mostly-engages, even in its weaker moments. Rodrigo De la Serna and Luis Tosar impress as gang leaders adding a human-spin to what could have been caricatured villain roles. Patricia Vico is a standout as a scorned bank employee out for revenge, whilst Joaquín Furriel adds some welcome light relief as one of the more inexperienced robbers.
To Steal from a Thief is an efficient Euro-thriller that delivers slick and credible tension and crafts an unsettled atmosphere. A political subplot and a change of tone does cause a clear energy dip, but an effective conclusion means this is forgivable.
[rating=3] | Andrew McArthur
Crime, Thriller, World Cinema | Spain, Argentina, 2016 | 2016 Edinburgh Film Festival | 16,19 June 2016 |Dir.Daniel Calparsoro | Luis Tosar, Rodrigo De la Serna, Raúl Arévalo, Patricia Vico