The Motive movie review: A terrific premise spoilt by loosely woven second act and rushed climax

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Aug 20, 2018 13:52:39 IST


Manuel Martín Cuenca’s new Spanish drama The Motive (El Autor – lit. The Author) starts with a terrific premise and an even more brilliant opening credits sequence. But while the film’s first act is beautifully written and exquisitely executed, it is the second act that seems to drag its feet, resulting in a hurriedly put together climax that you are sure to miss if you so much as blink your eyes.

Alvaro is a middle-aged and exhausted man working as a notary in a law office in the Spanish city of Seville. He wishes to be a writer and has been going to a writing school for three years. When his tutor finally loses his patience and gives up on him, Alvaro is heartbroken. To make things worse, he finds his own wife becoming a successful author, although Alvaro himself considers her writing cheap and pedestrian. When he comes to know of his wife’s infidelity, Alvaro separates from her and takes up an apartment in a quiet neighbourhood in the city to focus on his first novel. However, he soon discovers that he lacks creative imagination, and this almost drives him insane. But Alvaro soon realises that all great works of fiction are rooted in reality, and therefore sets out to find inspiration from people around him. He soon begins to manipulate the lives of his neighbours, in order to generate material for his novel.

Javier Gutiérrez in The Motive. Netflix

Javier Gutiérrez in The Motive. Netflix

Fifteen minutes into the film, and you will know for sure that the director is a master of his craft. He presents the character of the protagonist as an everyday middle-class aspiring author trying to juggle a day job and a novel he cannot seem to write. And in doing so, Alvaro comes across as someone who we are familiar with, because let’s admit it – haven’t we known at least one such person in our own lives? The fact that a man’s aspiration for good, meaningful literature can be hindered by so many obstacles – including the double standards of know-it-all writing coaches – is vividly brought forward in the mute frustration of the film’s central character. Towards the beginning of the film, this frustration rides high on generous doses of dark humour. But as the film progresses, it gradually begins to manifest itself in the ominous form of a dangerous obsession. One knows in one’s heart that Alvaro is crossing a line in his hunt for a story. But by then, Alvaro has gone well beyond any sense of right and wrong. He plays God to those puppets – literally toying with their lives to create moments of crisis, and then watches them react from a distance. There are elements of voyeurism, deceit and mind-manipulation involved. But Alvaro is far too possessed by the possibilities of his plot, and he continues to see his characters go downhill – with zero sense of remorse. In the final act of the film, the storyline takes an unpredictable and chilling turn, reminding us how far a fragile human mind can go to get what it wants.

Javier Gutiérrez plays Alvaro – the troubled writer desperately looking for a story for his first novel. Gutiérrez plays the role without giving his character any unnecessary traits at all. His Alvaro is an ordinary man struggling to find his peace. But somewhere during the journey, his mind snaps – and the most beautiful part of Gutiérrez’s portrayal is that he will never let you get an inkling as to when that happens. It is only in the final scene of the film that you will truly realise the magnitude and seriousness of what he has done.

Among the other actors, Antonio de la Torre plays Alvaro’s double-speaking writing coach with such sincerity that it is virtually impossible to tell till about halfway into the film if he is genuinely interested in making a great writer out of Alvaro, or if he is merely taking advantage of him. De la Torre’s performance is clearly one of the highlights of the film. Adelfa Calvo plays her part beautifully – as the unhappy, insecure and timid old caretaker of the residential building who becomes Alvaro’s first victim. Adriana Paz and Tenoch Huerta play a Mexican immigrant couple struggling to eke out an honest living in a city hit by recession, and Alvaro manipulates them too in search of his story.

While the writing is not exactly superlative material, there is always a sense of simmering tension throughout the film. You will find yourself rooting for Alvaro and reprimanding him in the same breath. Despite all its flaws, it has to be said that the film is certainly more than a decent endeavour. A more tightly woven second act and a slightly longer climax would have made this a perfectly delicious watch.

The Motive is currently streaming on Netflix.

Updated Date: Aug 20, 2018 13:52:39 IST