Money Heist: Why Its Characters Make This Netflix Series a Modern Cult
This isn't your regular review and there are no spoilers ahead, so enjoy this roller-coaster ride that traverses across characters you will love, hate and cherish forever says reviewer and cinema buff Prakash Gowda
A perfect plan with imperfect execution. A larger-than-life heist with devil-in-the-details screenplay. Flawless writing with flawed characters. The Spanish Netflix (blockbuster, shall we say?) series, Money Heist (La casa de papel) is about contrasts locking horns with commonalities, patterns embracing disorder, silence tuning into chaos that clangs into a crescendo of Bella Ciao.
So, what makes this once big-time flop to become the most-watched non-English language series and one of the most-watched series on Netflix? Is it the writing, direction, acting? Well, all of them combined of course. But there’s one unmistakable aspect of Money Heist that makes it special – The characters.
To begin with, the character of Sergio Marquina/Salva aka Professor, played to perfection by Álvaro Morte isn’t your regular ‘hero’ with a perfect plan and mouthing smart one-liners with swag. For him, the heist isn’t just about money, but a manifestation of his principles and a tribute to his father.
An idealist to the core, Professor isn’t infallible (He makes mistakes too, and a lot of them to be precise), isn’t focused (he often goes astray, much to the chagrin of his robbers as well as the audience) or isn’t a dictator (he seldom loses his mind even if he is abused by his ilk), but he commands respect from his robbers because he is supremely intelligent, empathetic and most importantly, he is a human and not a hero.
Professor’s team has complete faith in him and confessedly, even the audience. Wait, why bring the audience everywhere? That's because Money Heist is as much about the audience, as it is about the robbers or shall we call them ‘students’ henceforth? Thanks, sounds better now. One can write reams and reams on just the Professor, but then it would be quite a spoiler, so let’s move on to the students.
The first student that lingers on your mind is Úrsula Corberó as Silene Oliveira aka Tokyo. If there’s anyone who is the most heroic in Money Heist, it has to be Tokyo, no second thoughts about it. Her whistle-worthy moment is the one in the second season where she rides a bike and jumps into the Royal Mint of Spain – a scene that can easily give all the Uma Thurmans and Angelina Jolies of the world a run for their money. Yup, it’s that good and this isn’t an exaggeration.
This moment gives you an adrenaline rush even while you are in the couch potato mode during these times of quarantine. Tokyo is the narrator of Money Heist and she takes you through the mind space of all the characters so she means a lot to you as audience, just like Sanjay for Dhritrashtra in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat. Oops, pardon the digression - Blame it on the re-runs of Ramayan and Mahabharat on Doordarshan India. Tokyo isn’t just about action and resilience, but is also about the raw love that she has for Aníbal Cortés aka Rio (Miguel Herrán, a young hacker who is a perfect depiction of vulnerability) and fierce loyalty. No, wait. When it comes to fierce loyalty, it has to be Berlin.
Pedro Alonso aces and wins your heart as Andrés de Fonollosa aka Berlin, a terminally ill jewel thief as well as second-in-command to his students. At first glance, Berlin comes across as completely bereft of emotions or empathy. You hate him (No, wait – There’s Enrique Arce as Arturo Román, one of the hostages whom you’d detest like none other, later on that), but eventually you start looking up to him, often wondering that you like him more than the Professor. Well, it’s a dilemma we would leave you to indulge in, if in case you haven’t watched yet (What on earth are you doing during this lockdown?).
Staring death straight into its eyes, Berlin has figured out life like Buddha. He is the chosen one among the heist team. He is like your boss’ pet who bosses around in his absence yet isn’t subservient in front of the boss too. Told you, these characters aren’t those stereotypes you’ve been fed upon since ages. Unlike Sergio i.e. Professor who is often unsure and a tad pessimist, Berlin is the enlightened one, uttering gems of deep philosophies of life with the restraint of a Zen and generosity of Rama (these Ramayan re-runs, I tell you!). Berlin is also hopelessly romantic, yup you read that right. He is the kind of romantic who dreams of rosy paths that even the most romantic flick hero won’t ever dare to tread upon. He is all hearts. Well, not really. It’s Nairobi who deserves such title.
Alba Flores as Ágata Jiménez aka Nairobi is top-rate and is the one who has been entrusted the responsibility of printing currency notes in the Royal Mint of Spain. Having a bad day at office (Okay, work-from-home office) or broke up with your beloved? (Over video call or worse still, text message). Just press that forward button on your remote and stop at Alba Flores in the frame. Nairobi will have you all covered with her affable demeanour and an embrace warm enough to make your face aglow with hope. In fact, Nairobi is hope personified and that’s precisely the reason why you need to see her survive the heist, along with everyone. Don’t be surprised if you find your fingers crossed while viewing a key scene and a sudden gasp for breath in the fourth season.
Paco Tous as Agustín Ramos aka Moscow is the father figure of this team. A former miner turned criminal who knows his place in the world and doesn’t hesitate to remind his son Daniel ably played by Jaime Lorente, his place when it’s crucial. Darko Perić as Helsinki is the ‘Teddy Bear’ of the lot who is perhaps one of the best onscreen portrayal of gay character along with his ‘almost twin’ cousin, Roberto Garcia as Oslo, tug at your heartstrings with their bonding.
Esther Acebo as Mónica Gaztambide aka Stockholm, one of the hostages who is Arturo Román's secretary and mistress, pregnant with a child out of wedlock has her moments to shine. Arturo, as mentioned earlier, is a character you’d detest from the bottom of your heart. In fact, you’d detest him and are sure to draw an analogy with the person you find most annoying in your life. Kudos to the actor Enrique Arce, who makes you hate him so much, along with Najwa Nimri as Alicia Sierra, the pregnant inspector of the National Police Corps. Sierra is a villain as savage as the proverbial Thanos, I kid you not.
Speaking of female cops, Itziar Ituño as Raquel Murillo aka Lisbon is a character you would fall in love with, just like the Professor. A woman coming to terms with divorce while her ex-husband is dating her sister and is on the verge of losing a custodial battle for her daughter, Raquel’s life is as messed up on all fronts. It’s in the Professor’s arms that she finds solace and even the professor loves her to the moon and back. Professor and Raquel, with their immaculate performances, make their love believable. Heck, even their lovemaking scenes come across as poetry of emotions. It’s an impossible love story that makes Romeo and Juliet seem far more optimistic.
The music by Manel Santisteban and Iván Martínez Lacámara have already become a part of every Money Heist fan’s playlist and the multiple renditions of Bella Ciao on social media platforms and the Dali masks (A tribute to the Spanish Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí) makes it obvious that Money Heist is a modern cult to a fault. Migue Amoedo shoots the film adroitly and the team of editors, i.e. David Pelegrín, Luis Miguel González Bedmar, Verónica Callón, Raúl Mora, Regino Hernández, Raquel Marraco and Patricia Rubio build a gripping narrative with the dexterity of a maestro. Writer Álex Pina and Director Jesús Colmenar deserve a bow for creating characters that compel millions across the globe to root for the robbers oops, students and their professor. On a parting note, for every viewer of Money Heist, words like Professor and city names like Tokyo, Nairobi, Rio, Denver, Moscow, Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm, Lisbon and Berlin will never be the same. Bon voyage, for it’s a ticket to the world during these times of lockdown. Bella Ciao!