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Its averageness is beyond frustrating.
Netflix’s The Motive—named El autor in its native Spain—is an average movie with a few flashes of being something more. Its averageness is frustrating as hell.
The movie revolves around a wholly mediocre and unremarkable man, Alvaro (Javier Gutierrez). He wants to be a writer—to write high literature—but poor Alvaro has nothing to write about. Everyone in his life is more interesting than him. At an awards dinner for his wife, she has more to say about their dog than him. Alvaro is the kind of guy who toils away and lets life happen to him. The much-praised dog leads Alvaro straight to his wife’s affair, which upends his whole life.
The Motive wrings some laughs out of its setup in the beginning before settling into a rhythm and getting too comfortable with itself. The first 20 minutes are funny, and Alvaro is called out frequently for his lack of talent. It’s ironic that the point when Alvaro takes control of his life is when the movie loses its edge. Alvaro finds inspiration for his writing with the tenants of his new apartment. He pumps the building’s lonely superintendent for dirt on his neighbors. Then he worms his way into their lives so he can use their stories for his novel.
I kept waiting and hoping for The Motive to give into its darker side, but it only flirts with it. Instead, the bulk of the movie is spent watching Alvaro observe others.
The Motive puts me in a mental loop. On the one hand, the writing and acting are good. Everything made sense, everything clicks into place, and everything serves its purpose. On paper, it all adds up. But its execution kept me at a distance. Director Manuel Martin Cuenca keeps the tone pitched at the same level the whole way through. Big moments, like a murder (I told you, it flirts with darkness), are as flat and unexciting as one of Alvaro’s meetings with his writing teacher. It’s like driving across a flat road and staring at the cloudless sky.
While I won’t say The Motive is a bad movie, I can’t recommend it. It’s a nothing of a movie. Alvaro, despite a committed performance by Gutierrez, is a black hole of a protagonist. If you don’t find him interesting, which I didn’t, it’s hard to care about the movie. Save yourself the two hours.
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Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.