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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FALCÓN -- DVD review by porfle

Detective fiction oftens takes the main character for a pretty rough ride on the rollercoaster of  life, and this is rarely more true than in Acorn Media's 2-disc DVD set, FALCÓN.  Noir doesn't get much darker than this--in fact, the various physical and spiritual ordeals suffered by Spanish chief homicide detective Javier Falcón (Marton Csokas) in these two grueling feature-length episodes almost makes "The Maltese Falcon" look like an episode of "Three's Company."

Csokas (LORD OF THE RINGS, PAWNROMULUS MY FATHER) is an intense, somber sort of an actor, making him ideal for the lead role in these grim, disturbing,  and often nightmarish stories.  Indeed, once you get used to the murky photography and jittery camerawork, you get the feeling that what we're seeing isn't an objective account of events but rather how Falcón himself interprets them through the prism of his deeply troubled psyche. 

On one hand, he's a brilliant cop who's upright and reliable, though emotionally distant, but on the other hand he's so on the verge of falling apart it's as though his life is held together by wheat paste and chicken wire.  His impending divorce from wife Inés (Emilia Fox) is a daily pain,  made more so when she starts having an affair with his boss.  And his younger partner José Luis Ramírez (Charlie Creed-Miles, who played young apprentice monk David in THE FIFTH ELEMENT) is after his job, not only because he's ambitious but because he has a needy family and a sick child to support.  And to top it off, Falcón is a drug addict, haunting back alleys for his daily fix.

The first story, "The Blind Man of Seville",  plunks us down in the middle of all this before we've had a chance to acclimate ourselves to the inside of Falcón's head, so it all seems rather dreary and unpleasant at first.  Our hero investigates the murder of a wealthy restauranteur who's been tied up and forced to watch something--his eyelids having literally been "peeled"--which, as  fate would have it,  ends up being connected in a deep and very personal way to Falcón and his own family, including sister Pilar (Carla Sánchez), aspiring bullfighter Rafa (James Floyd), and, most importantly, their late father who was a nationally-beloved painter.

The way in which the case is linked to his family continues to deepen until each new revelation becomes almost unbearable to both Falcón and those caught in its wake.  People he knows personally become victims forced to see and hear things before dying, and even the childhood memories which haunt him seem to implicate him as well.  The one bright spot is a desperate liason with a beautiful suspect,  the restauranteur's wife Consuelo (Hayley Atwell), but the most devastating twists lay ahead as Falcón suffers a series of shocks that will put him right out of action and threaten his future on the police force.

By the time we get to story number two, "The Silent and the Damned", we know the score and are ready to settle right into the surrealistic nightmare that is Javier Falcón's life.  How screwed up things are for him and how he wades through it all become a fascination once you're attuned to the dirgelike rhythm and oppressive ambience of this show.  The murder mystery, involving the lethal fallout from an oppressive regime in South America, isn't even all that interesting until, like everything else, Falcón's personal life gets wrapped up in it like a shark in a fishing net.

The gore factor is ratcheted up a few notches right off the bat, with a tongue cut out during the initial murder and, later, a closeup of a cadaver's eyeball being removed from its socket (to gain entry into a locked room guarded by iris identification).  The latter is just one sign that Falcón, having been barred from official duties after uncovering a cesspool of corruption involving his own superiors, is past the point of fooling around.  Just how far he'll go before this episode's over is a continuing source of surprise and delight.

The series is set in Saville, Spain and features some beautiful locations along with a generous view of the city's gritty underbelly, all filtered through the main character's off-kilter perceptions.  (And dark--did I mention dark?)  As in the "Maigret" series with Michael Gambon as a French police detective, these non-English characters all have British accents, but that didn't bother me.  Both lead and supporting performances are top-notch, with some nice guest turns from Bernard Hill (TITANIC, LORD OF THE RINGS), Rosie Perez as a tough-as-nails mystery woman, and "Deep Space Nine" alumnus Alexander Siddig.   

The 2-disc DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and English subtitles.  Extras include "Blind Man of Seville: Behind the Scenes", a tour of Seville with Robert Wilson (author of the novels), and photo galleries.

I didn't like FALCÓN at first--its unrelentingly downbeat atmosphere and uber-noir quality took some getting used to.  Once a taste is acquired for it, though, this is terrific stuff--powerful, hard-hitting, and very engrossing,  gradually taking us farther and farther down the rabbit hole to the point where I found it downright mesmerizing.

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