‘The Whistlers’ is a great action thriller with a heart

Pat Padua

THE WASHINGTON POST – Featuring a femme fatale, a corrupt cop and an eclectic soundtrack that opens with Iggy Pop’s 1977 The Passenger, the Romanian crime drama The Whistlers includes elements that could have been plucked from almost any Tarantino-esque bloodbath.

But coming from director Corneliu Porumboiu, whose last film was the slow-as-molasses soccer documentary Infinite Football, it is a drastic – and exciting – departure from expectations.

The ornate plot revolves around Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a veteran police detective who has agreed to help a group of mobsters spring a big-time criminal from a Bucharest prison.

The escape plan is hatched in the Canary Islands, where Cristi meets his co-conspirators, learning to communicate by means of Silbo Gomero, an esoteric whistling language native to the island of La Gomera (the film’s Romanian title).

Of course, there is money is at stake – a cool USD30 million – but Cristi is motivated by something else: the beautiful Gilda (Catrina Marlon), who recruited him for the job, and whose history with the policeman is, let’s say, complicated.

Ivanov is perfect in the role of world-weary detective, and his casting is also weirdly apt.

In Porumboiu’s 2009 film Police, Adjective, the actor played another cop: a police chief who, in a climactic scene, spends nearly 20 minutes defining the word “conscience” for the benefit of one of his underlings. Such a long, patience-testing sequence would seem tonally out of place here, but The Whistlers plays, in some ways, like an extravagant – and sobering – sequel to the earlier film.

Here, the director returns to a fascination with both language and corruption, the difference being that the moral arbiter of the previous film is now someone who has fallen from grace.

For anyone who knows Porumboiu’s other films well, there’s plenty of resonance to be found between them and The Whistlers. Newcomers, for their part, will enjoy plenty of dazzling scenery and plot twists in a humourous film that simultaneously revels in action movie tropes while slyly subverting them.

Vlad Ivanov in ‘The Whistlers’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST