|'the notion that the ideologically opposed Juan and Pedro need only pull together to unite their investigation (and Spain) feels simplistic and a little trite and the socio-political musings do not extend satisfactorily into the investigation'|
Compared in glowing terms on release to True Detective (perhaps not the level of praise it first seemed after that show's noticeable dip in quality in season two), Marshland does have similarities to HBO's detective show. Arriving in a rural town in Spain's South to investigate a series of murders, mismatched partners Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) and Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) soon discover that their temperamental differences extend into philosophical divides. With events occurring just a few years after the fall of Francoist Spain, the scene depicted is one of deep divisions and a nation struggling to come to terms with its new ideology, boiled down to the microcosm of the near-forgotten locale and the two leads.
With clear attempts to extend the murder mystery out into something significant, you can only give Marshland points for trying. The picture which it draws though feels too vague and unsatisfying. The notion that the ideologically opposed Juan and Pedro need only pull together to unite their investigation (and Spain) feels simplistic and a little trite and the socio-political musings do not extend satisfactorily into the investigation (though they are linked) to justify their presence in the plot. Whilst the need for plot is something discussed semi-regularly in cinema (most recently with Hsiao-Hsien Hou's The Assassin), its presence in a police procedural is surely non-negotiable.
Meanwhile, having given himself a strong crutch upon which to lean the elements of the film new to the genre, director Alberto Rodríguez finds himself leaning on more familiar ones elsewhere. Juan, struggling in opening scenes with alcohol, is revealed to have health problems, whilst Pedro's dedication to his work is clearly impacting his young family; never seen but frequently phoned. Are those problems or the reasons why these sorts of narratives are so beloved? It's a never-ending question.
Rodríguez does find a lot of success throughout, despite his take on this story's 'hook' having problems. The desolate opening scenes (and beyond in fact) seem to directly reference Joon Ho Bong's Memories Of Murder, which is a wise choice of contemporary yard stick. The investigation ponders along to a close that is satisfactory, and a chase along the titular islands which looks as good as the rest of the film does. It never truly grips though and the stock characters, set up to antagonise and needle, are hard to warm to or invest in.