THE REALM is a kinetic tour de force from its opening moments, the moving parts both on and offscreen working in harmony to ensure the tension never stops. Being dropped into the action straight away left me totally captivated, with Sorogoyen’s penchant for long takes and the nonstop beat of Olivier Arson’s pulsating score demanding the viewer keep up. Even when characters linger around a table in relaxed conversation, editor Alberto del Campo weaves around and in between them perfectly timed to the script’s brisk pace. Likewise, Sorogoyen and co-writer Isabel Peña demonstrate a keen awareness of when to limit exposition in favour of preserving momentum; for instance, most of the supporting players don’t have developed backstories because they simply aren’t needed. If you were under the impression that political drama is inherently slow and dull, THE REALM will scream how wrong you are through every scene without slowing down or breaking a sweat.
This energy at the centre of THE REALM is embodied by Manuel López-Vidal (Antonio de la Torre), a high-ranking member of his unnamed region’s government who has been in politics for nearly fifteen years. Manuel is an archetypal career politician: a trusted confidant of the party leader who has experienced his job’s perks at length, and whose influence is common knowledge. However, when he becomes the face of a corruption scandal Manuel finds himself ostensibly abandoned by his colleagues, the same people he called close friends mere scenes prior. Subsequently, the film focuses on his goals of surviving the criminal investigation unscathed and seeking revenge; de la Torre often remains literally front and centre of frame, dominating our view much like Manuel has put his own agenda ahead of other people throughout his career. While I was unfamiliar with de la Torre before THE REALM, his work here elevating the tension Sorogoyen builds is extraordinary. Manuel is depicted at his most cunning, threatening and desperate, an intelligent man who has had the consequences of his actions obscured by the glimmer of their spoils. The adage that pride comes before a fall may be well known at this point, but I can’t remember the last time it was so captivating.
Nevertheless, the film occasionally features questionable decisions which hindered my immersion. Although I previously highlighted the meticulous work of its editor, this success is despite some truly off-putting shaky cam cinematography, especially during otherwise static dialogue-heavy sequences.
There are simply much more elegant ways to shoot these moments; in fact, the opening of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight showed fluid camera movement can raise tension in such a way that would have been perfect here. Meanwhile, despite appreciating the streamlined approach Sorogoyen and Peña take with THE REALM’s script, I’ll admit to some confusion regarding characters’ movements between scenes, with one pivotal instance from the third act feeling particularly contrived and lazy. Similarly, the film’s final minutes are a frustrating blend of jaw-dropping, brilliant dialogue and overly explicit rehashes of the main themes. Thankfully, these flaws are minor blemishes in light of how well THE REALM realises its complex portrait of politics. Coupled with its slick and tense approach to the subject matter, I’d thoroughly recommend it to drama and thriller loves alike.