Alberto Rodríguez’s “El hombre de las mil Caras”

First things first, there was a lot of confusion as to what could be the English name for this Spanish movie directed by Alberto Rodríguez. I did the most common thing everyone does- I did a Google search. As I browsed through the Google results, there were two names corresponding to the same movie popped up- the first one, The Man with Thousand Faces and the second, Smoke and Mirrors. Only later did I realize that one of them is the translation of Spanish name and the other the movie’s title that was released in the US. So, I will move on by using “Smoke and Mirrors” as the title.

‘Smoke and Mirrors” is a movie based on a book by Manuel Cerdán, titled “Paesa., el espía de las mil caras”, who is the first person to gain access to Francisco Paesa, the Spanish secret agent who had gone rogue and faked his own death.

The movie starts off with a series of brilliant quotes from Jesús Camoes (José Coronado) about airlines and the world in general. He introduces us to the movie and the key characters in a sub-textual way. In no time, we are introduced to Francisco Paesa (Eduard Fernández), who is a man in his fifties with subtle spectacles dressed in a business suit.

 The stage is set up in 1995, Madrid for us as Jesús tells us “In 1995, there were involved in handing over the most wanted fugitive in the history of Spanish Democracy”.

It might sound a little playful tease from the director but it is not – they indeed hand over “the most wanted fugitive in the history of Spanish Democracy”. They hand over Luis Roldán (Carlos Santos), who also was the Spanish Police Commissioner. So, the context is perfect- there is a police officer who is being referred to as the most wanted fugitive and then there are two individuals, one of whom is a pilot and the other as his accomplice in handing over the most wanted criminal.

But, the anticipation and eagerness to know how it all happened don’t seem to create as much invocation as the introduction does. It is a common trick for screenwriting to make sure there is enough dirt on everyone or for most of them, so that audience keep guessing and analyzing why one is more likely to be the criminal and why not the other. Here, there is little scope for that. Alberto Rodríguez and his co-writer Rafael Cobos doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.

As the movie progresses, we are introduced to many characters that complement the cause of Paesa’s efforts in helping Roldán escape from the law and protect his money. We are introduced to the concept of cross-country travel, cheat code of managing illicit funds, and a niece who withdraws the money and deposits back in the same bank on the same day. It worked and so we watch it. As long as it works, it doesn’t matter who stupid it might sound for an outsider. This is probably the reason why con artists work with such brilliance, it is such preposterous idea for a commoner to believe that some simple things executed with proper care, attention and timing is all that is needed.

Despite all the efforts to salvage the money, there is no point in the movie as to indicate the necessity of such huge scale of crime – no display or party as much as anyone wealthy does, no under the seat cover hidden packs. The money is deposited in banks, the houses sold through a bank deal. It is that simple and times it gets way too casual for it to be an interesting story.

The movie is as much about Paesa and Roldán as it is about Jesús. Of the three main characters, Carlos Santos takes the pie home. He is excellent as a police commissioner who is as vulnerable and fearful as anyone who does a crime. He makes no efforts to hide his loyalty – he breaks down at times, he is angry that was catalyzed by nothing more than sheer arrogance.

Overall, Alberto Rodríguez’s “Smoke and Mirrors” is non-exaggerating, a non-dramatizing story about a con man who genuinely describes the story of a man who fooled the entire country. Supported by the performances of the lead cast, the movie holds onto its position as a drama that was wrongly promoted as a crime thriller.

MV5BODk1MmE4OTQtMTQ5OS00MGFhLWJmMGYtNzFiYjM0M2U5NjMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTA0MjU0Ng@@._V1_QL50_SY1000_CR0,0,699,1000_AL_.jpgLanguage: Spanish

Release: 2016 | 

Runtime: 123 Mins |

Direction: Alberto Rodríguez |

Screenplay: Alberto Rodríguez, Rafael Cobos |

Cinematographer: Alex Catalán|

Editor: José M. G. Moyano |

Music: Julio de la Rosa |

Distribution: Film Factory Entertainment |

Cast: Eduard Fernández, José Coronado, Carlos Santos

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