Thrilling and complex, “7 Años” spares no one

Title: “7 Años”

Director: Roger Gual

Release date: Oct. 28, 2016

Genre: Crime drama

Country: Spain

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Stick five desperate people in a room and bullets are bound to fly. But the tense and compact crime drama “7 Años” nixes the gunplay and focuses solely on character. After the nihilistic glee of Tarantino’s similar, though far less interesting, “The Hateful Eight,” “7 Años” plays like a return to the basics of cinema in the best way possible. There are five characters in one room with one problem. In the end, however, it feels too short. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it never really settles in.

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Under pressure from the IRS, four friends are facing jail time for mishandling funds in their software firm. Here’s the catch: with a simple money transaction, only one of them needs to take the fall. So Marcel (Alex Brendemuhl, “Longing for a Kiss”), the CEO, Veronica (Juana Acosta, “Vientos de la Habana”), the CFO, Luis (Paco León, “Kiki, Love to Love”), and Carlos (Juan Pablo Raba, “Shot Caller”) hire a mediator, Jose (Manuel Moron, “Cerca de tu casa”), to figure out who that one person will be.

The movie’s short running time forces the characters to be direct. The dialogue is blunt but never boring. Viewers can be sure that what narrative layers it peels back only leave room for more. As the characters are stripped to their core, the dialogue only gets more terse. Honestly, while no grand battles take place, “7 Años” is violent in its language. Marcel and Veronica share the most brutal exchanges, and Carlos and Luis the most heartbreaking.

The characters start out vague, however. Carlos and Luis’ introduction is fairly bland. It tells us a little bit about them both. Marcel and Veronica’s opening scenes aren’t any better. As it goes on, however, the characters’ dynamic deepens and, frankly, gets pretty sad. When they come to blows, it’s not fun to watch. They just cut so deep with everything they say.

Director Roger Gual is careful in setting up these climaxes. He’s not one for visual flourishes. More than anything, his style serves the characters. It lacks the freneticism of Fabian Bielinsky’s similarly character-driven Argentinian crime opus “Nine Queens,” but has David Mamet’s command of dialogue ala “American Buffalo.”

It’s a damn good movie. It never tries to be anything other than what it is: an exploration of four characters during the tensest moment of their lives. Even with a light plot, “7 Años” feels too short. The conclusion certainly would have hit harder if viewers knew these characters more intimately. Director Gual’s barebones style helps move it along at a steady click. When the credits roll, no one is spared. Not even the viewer.