In 1921 all of Spain was torn apart. As the unions call for a strike and fight a fierce battle with industry, the police have more than enough to do with anarchists. And with yourself, because nowhere is corruption more pronounced than with the law enforcement officers. The Basque policeman Aníbal Uriarte (Luis Tosar) therefore encounters a lot of resistance when he is supposed to check that everything is OK in Barcelona. The cooperation with the new colleagues is difficult. Time is of the essence because a truckload of weapons has been stolen, which is fatal in the current heated mood: If they fall into the wrong hands, a civil war threatens.
As is well known, first looks can be deceptive. This does not only apply to the police officers in Gun City, who at most accidentally go about their job of bringing the law to justice. It also applies to the title itself, which leads to a lot of fiery weapon use. The original Spanish title hits it better: La sombra de la ley, in German The shadow of the law. Because here a lot happens in the shadows of the metropolis, in back rooms and remote walls. Open fights with a lot of lead consumption? That’s less to do.
If you are looking for an action-heavy thriller, then – despite promises to the contrary – you have come to an unsatisfactory address. Gun City is dark like that too. Director Dani de la Torre does a good job of showing a country that is on the verge of forcibly breaking apart. He denies us any glimmer of hope. Personal relationships are overshadowed by blood and power games, nasty intrigues in which no sacrifice is too big – as long as it only affects others. Everyone fights for himself, even the union’s efforts to get more out of its members are accompanied by questionable tendencies.
There is of course no room for radiant heroes in such an environment. Even Uriarte, who is set up as the opposite pole, is always a little dodgy. Remains so closed and shrouded in mystery that no one can really say who he is and what exactly he wants – accomplished by the Spanish star Luis Tosar (Sleep Tight, Shrew’s Nest). That fits well with the story, which tends to get entangled in several storylines and themes that all overlap: the conflict between Spaniards and Basques, between rich factory owners and simple workers, between the police and powerful criminals.
What is very exciting as a portrait of the time and society is boring in other respects. Very little work has been done on the figures. Corrupt, brutal cops run around without any shades of color, figures that have so little contour that two hours later you can hardly tell them apart. Gun City clearly focuses more on quantity here, is more interested in the rough story than the people involved in it, and misses making more of the film than a history lesson.
In the long run it is a bit tiring, as is the very intrusive music, which doesn’t want to leave you alone for a second and tries in a subtle way to beat the feeling of threat into the minds of the audience. The visual design is better. Obviously, the Franco-Spanish co-production was given a considerable budget, which was mainly put into the surrounding area. It is atmospheric, as everyone walks around in trench coats, the streetscape is characterized by vintage cars, and the interior design invites you to travel back in time. So there are quite a few reasons to stop by Gun City, especially for fans of historically dressed genre films, even if the great tension does not want to arise here.
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