Code Name: Emperor review – lousy title, smart script

By Marc Miller
Published: August 13, 2022 (Last updated: November 15, 2022)


Forget the lousy title, Code Name: Emperor is a perfectly paced and intelligent spy thriller.

This review of the Netflix film Code Name: Emperor does not contain spoilers. 

A scene in the middle of Code Name: Emperor exemplifies the main character. He just saved the ass of a judge hanging out with an underaged boy in his hotel room while snorting coke off of the bathroom floor, for all we know. The judge knows he did it. The guy saving him from the Panama police force knows he did it. Yet, as he is driving him away in his rental car to the airport, the judge begins to throw a hissy fit to save face. He accuses our guy of setting him up. He adds that when he gets home, he will open an investigation. To add to that, if he had anything to do with it, and I mean anything, says the old man, he is going to hang him out to dry.

That’s when Juan (Luis Tozar) pulls over the car by making a sharp turn and screeching his vehicle to a stop. He grabs a set of pictures and holds them about one inch to his face, like Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday. Juan calls him on his bullshit. He tells him the 15-year-old had a seizure. Further, the judge didn’t want him found in his room, so he tossed him over the balcony. Now, how could the Agency set that up?

You must love a character like this. He’s your John McClane badass. A weathered soul always with a look of determination. Juan walks around with an eternal salt and pepper five o’clock shadow, a shaved head with a large landing strip for his receding hairline on that dome he calls a head. He also looks like, especially by the last frame, the second coming of Abe Vigoda. Except he makes up for that by walking around with a cool leather jacket and a Glock stuffed inside the backside of his belt. The type of guy a woman can talk herself into falling for. Why? Well, for one, he’s strong, stoic, and he has the crush your windpipe with your thumb in his arsenal. Number two, they all cannot look like Jude Law.

Juan runs an outfit for the social affairs agency that runs illegal activities to help defend friends of influential government figureheads. His bread and butter is what that judge was talking about. He runs the Robes control play like the back of his hand. Set up your target in a sensitive situation, make them think you saved them, and then you can control their every move. His boss has set up his next play. He wants him to find anything he can on a local politician named Angel (Denis Gomez).

The problem for Juan is he cannot find anything. Sure, a little mild porn now and then, but he loves his wife and family, and besides a fake social media account, he is straight as an arrow. There is another plot point where he seeks the help of Wendy (Alexandra Masangkay), a maid of a German couple who may be terrorists. She helps him unwittingly. The agent even uses a young woman, a former asset named Marta (Georgina Amoros), who sets up Angel. And his team of highly trained agents will track and record every move. They then wait for the most opportune time to use the evidence.

Directed by Jorge Coira (Hierro) and written by Jorge Guerricaechevarria (The Oxford Murders), Code Name: Emperor is a solid thriller. The script is full of intrigue, perfectly paced, and an intelligent spy film that keeps viewers’ attention without resorting to endless action scenes or explosions. From the expertly crafted opening sequence to the touching and surprising conclusion, there isn’t a false note because the plot is well composed and stoically put together. Much of the credit goes to Tosar’s Juan. He is a performer with whom the viewer identifies and can move the story with a single glance.

Many plot points are being juggled here, and it is surprising how understated the result is. Admittedly this could have had a bigger payoff than such foreign crime films. However, Code Name: Emperor is not the sprawling crime saga like a Suburrra. But Coira’s film has a combined plot of a terrific political thriller and the blue shades of a bittersweet ending. Don’t let the lousy title fool you. This is a film worth streaming.

What do you think of the Netflix film Code Name: Emperor? Comment below.

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