The heist genre has lost its luster with audiences of late. Even with Ocean’s 8 set for this year the focus is clearly on the remake/star appeal and not the actual heist itself. For a while there every other movie was trying to capture the Ocean’s 11/Italian Job magic to mixed results. Spike Lee’s Inside Man is one of the most memorable heist movies and that was twelve years ago. The genre found a bit of a resurgence with gimmicky evolutions like Inception or Now You See Me, but as for straight-up heist stories? It’s been a bit of a dry spell – luckily where Hollywood falters, TV (more specifically Netflix & Spain’s Atena 3) succeeds. Netflix’s latest under-the-radar series La Casa de Papel hit the streaming service last week and judging from the first two episodes, it brings the heist genre back to its former glory.
Synopsis: “A group of very peculiar robbers have assaulted the Royal Mint of Spain to carry out the most perfect robbery in the history of Spain and taking home 2,400 million euros.”
Creator Alex Pina is clearly a huge fan of the genre. The show incorporates all the classic elements of heist films – fake names (all the robbers are named after major cities), scary masks/jumpsuits and a very complex scheme that includes using the police’s own playbook against them. Casa de Papel understands the conventions of the heist genre and uses that to subvert the audience’s expectations about what’s to come. Led by “The Professor” this group of mismatched criminals all have their own specific and fleshed out personalities that feel more specific than what most superhero movies try to pass off as “character variety” these days (seriously, how many roguishly handsome, wise-cracking, ingenious white guys do you need for a franchise?).
The audience surrogate is Tokio (portrayed by Úrsula Corberó), a thief about to go into hiding after her last job went horribly awry – ending with her lover being murdered – who is randomly recruited by The Professor to join the team. Corbero puts off a very strong “Mathilda from Leon all grown up” vibe that instantly endears you to her, despite her sometimes erratic behavior. Joining her are Berlin (the tactical leader and seemingly the most put-together criminal), Moscow & Denver (a father/son duo who specialize in safe-cracking/general mayhem, respectively), Rio (a hacker and Tokio’s love interest), Nairobi (counterfeiter) and the team of Helsinki & Oslo – two soldiers to do the grunt work.
In the first two episodes we’re introduced to the characters and begin to see the tip of the iceberg when for The Professor’s plan. It’s a lot of exposition that the show handles very well – the audience gets just enough information to whet our collective appetites without ever dragging the pace down to let every catch up. The use of flashbacks between the ongoing heist and them planning it out really adds to the momentum of each episode. It’s also a great plot device to flesh out characters more methodically than throwing everything at you in the first twenty minutes so the action can continue non-stop. They’re like a more low-key version of the flashbacks used in the first season of OitNB, but instead of entire backstories we just get a taste here and there of what these characters are all about.
The scheme itself is actually pretty clever so far – without giving too much away its somewhere between Inside Man and Prison Break (the first season only) with a little artsy-af early Besson thrown in for good measure. With only two episodes to judge from the refreshing thing about this show – aside from just being a super cool heist story – is that (so far) everyone seems to be getting along and actually being fucking professionals. Even when Tokio goes off-script, everyone keeps a cool head about them and adjusts accordingly. If this were a lesser, more broadly appealing show we’d already be knee deep in endless in-fighting and bullshit posturing between the team. For Casa de Papel, its all business and everyone seems to be on the same page. Even the scenes of them planning the heist have a warmth and charm about them, a rarity in today’s movie climate of “if there’s a team, they have to constantly be bickering for some reason.”
Aside from all that, the characters are just flat-out cool. Every single one has their own particular brand of criminality that makes them all seem like characters you actually want to see through to the end. They’re not perfect or morally upstanding per se, but there’s a certain distinct charisma to each of them that’s few and far between in team-up movies/shows these days.
Definitely give this one a shot, as it didn’t get near the same promotional efforts that other Netflix shows have gotten – it was one we had to dig through the Netflix Originals section to get to. Check out Casa de Papel on Netflix (seriously, if you don’t have Netflix I feel bad for you. What are you watching? Big Bang Theory and Agents of SHIELD….? Oof.)
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