Tribeca Review: Unit 7


[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films to hit the festival circuit in 2012.]

There’s something that strangely intrigues me when it comes to the corrupt cop drama. It’s not that I’ve ever wanted to be a cop or believe that law enforcement by and large is corrupt because that’s what rap music told me … but rather it’s the fascination of how men sworn to protect us can quickly fall down the rabbit hole in the name of justice. Also, because they get to hold guns and punch criminals and stuff…and that stuff is always cool.

Up until now I’ve only seen American takes on the corrupt cop drama, and these films almost always involve a rookie who’s unable to accept the the corrupt actions of the grizzled vet who’s grown cynical. Unit 7 (or Grupo 7 in Spain), however, puts a nice little twist to the formula.

Unit 7
Director: Alberto Rodriguez
Rating: TBD
Release Date: TBD

With the 1992 World’s Fair approaching, a drug task force in Seville is put together to clean up the streets. With a deadline hanging over their heads, Unit 7 members Angel (the rookie), Rafael (the grizzled vet), Mateo (the joker) and the fourth guy (seriously, he’s that forgettable) start turning to not-so-legal means to get the job done. But when Angel’s ambition, Rafael’s regrets, and the groups overall methods go to far, it begins leading them down a rabbit hole or brutality and lies that put those close to them in danger.

Unit 7 does a fair job in differentiating itself from the pack by not really having an overarching morality lesson coating the plot. It becomes less about what’s right and wrong and focuses more on the fact that aspiration and accolades can lead you down a twisted path. Rather than relying on the Rookie vs. Vet formula, Unit 7 puts a nice twist in which rookie Angel (played by Mario Casas) leads the team down the dark decent because of his ambition whereas the grizzled vet Rafael (Antonio de la Torre) sees the error in his old ways and witnesses the monster he created in Angel. It may be a slight tweak, but it’s enough to deliver a refreshing take on what some people will do in the name of justice and accolades.

What also helps differentiate Unit 7 is it focuses more on the toll of being a corrupt yet efficient law enforcement agent. Watching the bushy tailed Angel transform into a real son of a bitch and the strong willed Rafael turn into a broken shell of a man is much more interesting than the clearcut good vs. evil dynamic because at the end of the day, both men want the same thing. What’s also fascinating is seeing how after years of results and accolades, the spotlight provides a target for those wronged by the group. Soon, both criminals and citizens start fighting back against these cops who terrorize their neighborhood. The revenge enacted in the final act on the unit is especially entertaining … a public shaming that leads to the film’s final crescendo of violence.

As for problems, the film has a rough time with narrative partly because of the decision to break acts by 3-4 years. Because of this decision, the movie comes across as a string of events rather than an actual story, leaving the audience feeling a bit disjointed and tasked with filling in the blanks. I can’t really think of anything else other than the fact that they completely ignore the fourth guy. As I write this review only a few hours after watching the film, it bothers me that I can’t even remember his name. It’s clear that with the performances of Casas and Torre that the other two characters purpose are to support, but at least the fat guy provides much of the comic relief. Mysterious fourth guy … all i can really remember is that he gets bitten by a crazy drug addict. That’s pretty much it.

Despite its minor flaws, Unit 7 is a strong entry in the corrupt cop drama … genre (hehe). Providing an in depth look on the lengths one goes for results as well as the toll ambition can take on ones personal lives, Unit 7 is a different beast from the run of the mill good cop vs. bad cop movie. In the end you never really chastise these men for their actions, you’re just sad that this may be a necessary evil in the war against fighting the scurge that that is drugs. The war on drugs may be futile, but goddamn it if it isn’t fun as hell to watch a battlefield in which you’re unable to differentiate sides.