MONEY HEIST – SEASON 1 & 2 (2017)

  • Original Air Date: 02/05/2017
  • Cast: Úrsula Corberó, Itziar Ituño, Álvaro Morte, Paco Tous, Pedro Alonso, Alba Flores, Miguel Herrán, Jaime Lorente, Esther Acebo, Enrique Arce, María Pedraza
  • Creator: Álex Pina

Dense, intelligent and pulse-pounding… Money Heist is worth every penny of your Netflix subscription 

La Casa De Papel renamed Money Heist when it was dubbed and put on Netflix is a Spanish Television series that chronicles the story of a heist at the Royal Mint of Spain. We see the events unfold through the eyes of Tokyo (Úrsula Corberó) an extremely dangerous and short-fused girl who is recruited by a man known only as the professor (Álvaro Morte) who is putting together a team of six thieves named after the cities Tokyo, Denver, Oslo, Helsinki, Moscow, and Berlin, to carry out an unbelievable heist at the Mint. Tokyo is on the run from the law following a different robbery in which she lost her boyfriend to police fire and is bitter about it. The Professor saves her from the law and then puts her on the team that over the next five months prepares for a heist that the Professor has been planning for years.

We then jump ahead in time and land up on the first day of the heist where we see the thieves, donning Dali masks, enter the Mint and set into motion their elaborate plan. Through the next episodes, we see how the thieves carry out the robbery and the varied challenges that they have to face. Every now and then we go back in time to revisit certain events that have happened in the past but are in some way affecting the events that are unfolding at a given time. The fact that each of the thieves is anything but reliable makes the situations that much more dramatic. They are all pushing their own agendas and that invariably comes in the way of the bigger plan. We also get an extensive picture of their backgrounds through flashbacks and dialogues between characters that help us to understand their motivations for doing what they are doing.

Standing against the thieves is a spirited law enforcement officer, Raquel (Itziar Ituño) who is going through troubled times in her personal life. She is recently divorced and has a restraining order on her husband but the man is trying his best to coax their daughter into leaving her mother and coming over to him. The man is with Raquel’s sister now and that is evidently a source of great pain for her. Raquel also has to put up with a colleague, Angel (Fernando Soto) who is an insufferable cry baby and keeps pestering her every now and then for a possible fling that they evidently had when Raquel was unmarried. If that was not enough, she also has to put up with Colonel Prieto (Juan Fernández), a Spanish Intelligence officer who is en-tasked to oversee Raquel’s negotiation with the thieves at the Mint. With all this bearing on her shoulders, she now has to match wits with the foxy Professor who has planned every possible angle of the heist and is a person that she is falling in love with in real life without knowing who he actually was.

The first season of Money Heist is divided into two parts and they culminate in the first storyline. While the original episodes were of lengths of about 70 minutes, the Netflix rendition of the episodes is about 45 minutes apiece meaning that the original episodes have been cut up into two keeping intact the cliffhangers which I believe was easy as there was just so many edge-of-the-seat moments in the series. There are two facets to the series. The ensuing heist and the interpersonal drama of the characters involved. Both these facets have their share of pros and cons and I would like to start off with the former as most of the viewers would be in for the heist.

The heist works big time. It is fantastical and has so much energy that it is bound to get you interested. It is a perfect concoction of realism and pure fantasy that is served with conviction and pride. From the very first time we lay our eyes on the professor, we love him and we want his plan to succeed. That is another reason why we are so involved in the heist. To have a series pull a single heist across so many episodes and yet not lose steam was something remarkable. Every episode has something or the other going wrong with their perfect plan. Sometimes you realize that it was something that was pre-planned and then there are times when the Professor has to rush against time and tie off loose ends. Also, the erratic nature and behavior of the thieves result in the plan nearly falling apart more than once. These are the portions that are the most frustrating and also the most tense. The energy and heart that Álex Pina infuses in these sequences result in the viewer having his heart in his mouth for a large chunk of runtime.

The interpersonal drama of the series was a hit and miss from time to time. The romance brewing between the professor and Raquel and its implication on their respective lives and the heist on a whole was extremely well-done. Itziar Ituño and Álvaro Morte share a simmering chemistry and nothing about their essay felt out of place. Even with dubbed voices, their emotions resonated with the audiences. Since their romance was directly affecting the primary plot of the series, it made it that much more integral to the narrative. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these portions never dragged. A lot about the two characters were revealed in the moments that they shared in each other’s company and there was also a sense of excitement and tension because we never knew when Raquel would find out the professor’s true identity. He constantly kept getting cornered to precarious positions and that added a lot to the overall tension of the story. I just loved the bits when Raquel finally learns of the man’s true identity and the way she reacts to the whole situation. The background score in this portion only added to the heightened emotions and was beautiful. I can’t tell you how much I loved the final shot of the season. I will not ruin it here for the ones who are about to see this series after reading this review.

Having said that, most of the other subplots fell flat and only contributed to increasing the runtime. The subplot involving the father-son duo of Moscow (Paco Tous) and Denver (Jaime Lorente) led nowhere. There is no question that both the actors did very well in rendering their respective characters but their drama didn’t lead anywhere and even if it was edited out completely, it wouldn’t make any difference to the overall narrative. The same can be said about the subplot involving Berlin (Pedro Alonso) and one of the hostages that he takes advantage of. While this plot felt like it had some merit owing to the nature of Berlin and the circumstances his victim was in but was ultimately pointless as it didn’t contribute to anything in the end. The romance between Tokyo and Rio (Miguel Herrán) was the most frustrating of all the subplots. It is given the most time and it drags the most too. However, it does help to make Rio’s action in response to what happens to Tokyo believable. Here is a man who is head over heels in love with a woman who is 12 years older than him and it shows in his actions. We have to give credit to Úrsula Corberó and Miguel Herrán for rendering their characters believable enough for us to be frustrated with them. This subplot results in some really awkward situations and that does add to the drama but it gets a lot more time than what it deserved.

There is one more subplot that is integral to the story and gets progressively cute and sometimes just bizarrely hilarious. It is a love triangle involving one of the thieves, Denver, The Manager of Mint, Arturo Roman (Enrique Arce) and his secretary, Monica (Esther Acebo) who is pregnant with Arturo’s child but starts falling in love with Denver. The track between Denver and Monica keeps getting cuter as Monica is evidently bowled over by the way Denver treats her and her reactions to his love and care are heartwarming. Arturo, on the other hand, realizes his undying love for both Monica and his wife Laura after getting shot. He is so confused and dazed by the developments that he calls his wife Monica instead of Laura on a call and then finds Monica having sex with Denver when he was actually coming to get her out of captivity. The first time that he tries to be a hero he ends up vomiting on the floor seeing what he gets to see. Sad as it may be for Arturo, It split me up with laughter.

Speaking of the performances, Álvaro Morte leads from the front. He is charismatic, loveable, laudable and sometimes hilarious. I don’t remember being this impressed by a performance in a web series in a long time. The fact that he is so awkward in his mannerisms only makes him that much more likable. Itziar Ituño is an able adversary and romantic partner to Morte. She compliments him perfectly and they both do their best bits in each other’s company. Pedro Alonso gets the most wicked character of them all. Berlin is so well written and has so many good lines that it was almost impossible to not like him. The fact that Alonso gets the sarcastic and comic timing of the character so right makes the character endlessly better and entertaining. Alba Flores as Nairobi gets to shine briefly. She has an electric screen presence and that helps her cause from time to time.

On the technical front, Money Heist is a winner. The cinematography and the editing coupled with the set design and the visual effects make the series feel exactly the way its makers intended it to be felt like. I was particularly impressed with the gunfights and the sheer physicality that these sequences exuded. I was so impressed that I didn’t even care that the robbers never ran out of bullets, character dropped out of nowhere and was able to save their friends in the most insane manners possible, the commandoes never shot anything even though they sprayed bullets at our heroes who were practically without any shield on many occasions. The action felt way better executed than what it should have and I must confess that it will easily give some of the best Hollywood action films a run for their money. I loved the background score of the series that helped elevate many sequences. The rendition of “Bella Ciao” and the timing of it was just perfect.

Keeping aside a truckload of sequences where believability and realism were tossed out of the window, some unnecessary subplots that dragged, some plot holes and unbelievable coincidences and a few loose ends like how the thieves escaped, Money Heist – Season 1 deserved every ounce of the praise and viewership that it got. It is not the kind of series where you look for realism. It sets out to entertain and amaze and it is successful on both counts. I was rather late to watch this series and might not have watched it if it was not for the Corona Lockdown. But I am glad that I did and I would recommend this series to one and all who is looking for quality entertainment.

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars) 

 

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