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From Errol Flynn swashbucklers to the glorified serials of Indiana Jones to whichever Nicolas Cage character stole the Declaration of Independence, popular culture has long fixated on the adrenaline rush of treasure-hunting. It’s a gripping pursuit featuring cryptic code-breaking, perilous cheating of death and ever-so-many snakes.
What if, AMC+’s new six-part Spanish miniseries La Fortuna dares to ask, treasure hunting is actually quite dull? What if, instead of ancient booby traps and shady government conspiracies, the real-life business of treasure hunting focused almost exclusively on maritime law and international bureaucracy? The more realistic depiction, it turns out, would be consistently interesting, but never even slightly thrilling, other than occasional bouts of Stanley Tucci swearing and kicking things.
Tucci plays Frank Wild, an American treasure hunter cut from the cloth of Jeff Bezos, Lex Luthor or your favorite wealthy, bald eccentric. In the opening scene of the series, adapted by Alejandro Amenábar (Open Your Eyes, The Others) and Alejandro Hernández from the graphic novel by Paco Roca and Guillermo Corral, Wild and his high-tech vessel are navigating the Strait of Gibraltar when they come across what initially appears to be a pile of shells, but turns out to be a vast cache of gold and silver coins, valued at half-a-billion dollars.
Wild has discovered the wreck of La Fortuna, a ship that went down in 1804 loaded with riches from the New World. He is treated as a hero until Spanish authorities determine that La Fortuna was a Spanish ship and therefore the treasure belongs to Spain. The job of making this case falls to buttoned-down young diplomat Alejandro Ventura (Álvaro Mel), newly assigned to the Spanish Ministry of Culture, his more seasoned and cynical colleague Lucia Vallarta (Ana Polvorosa) and American attorney Jonas Pierce (Clarke Peters), whose rivalry with Wild stretches back decades.
Amenábar, who helmed all six episodes, is a genre director of such confidence that it’s probably intentionally subversive not just how little action there is in La Fortuna, but how anti-climactic that action is when it takes place. Characters in La Fortuna are constantly referencing pirates and pirate movies, but whether it’s a lifeless nautical flashback in the second episode or a lifeless freeway chase in the finale, the show keeps teasing escalation that never occurs. The series has some visual polish and the use of global locations is sometimes rather pleasant, but any time La Fortuna threatens to go too Hollywood, Amenábar seems to be chiding you for imposing those expectations on a story in which the heroes are civil servants — and not the Jack Ryan type of civil servants who also know their way around an explosive military maneuver.
With its background fascination with the preservation of Spanish culture, La Fortuna owes a lot to Don Quixote — though it isn’t always clear, between Alejandro, Lucia and Jonas, who is the Man of La Mancha, who the trusted sidekick and who the love interest. The gap between fantastical fiction and pencil-pushing reality is front and center, as is the story’s dual cultural critique.
There’s some nuance to the way Amenábar and Hernández mock Spanish politics and the country’s failures to embrace and learn from its history. But the lambasting of American imperial hubris, however fully earned, plays as comically superficial. That said, while I put very little factual stock in the show’s depiction of legal systems, it definitely pays lip service to some real points of maritime law. So if you’ve been waiting on a show that prioritizes the Sunken Military Craft Act over taut set pieces, this one’s for you.
The closest La Fortuna comes to galvanic is when Tucci, relishing his character’s snakelike swagger, and Peters, full of worldly wisdom and weary impatience, go head-to-head, which happens just barely enough. They’re also the only two actors on the English-language side of the cast who leave the impression they were given a properly translated script. Supporting players including Sharon D. Clarke, Indy Lewis and the always compelling T’Nia Miller all sound like they’re reciting lines shouted from just off-camera.
The Spanish side of the ensemble is driven by somewhat likably idealistic turns by Mel and Polvorosa, though they’re let down by a never-convincing love story. There are solid performances from veterans Karra Elejalde, Manolo Solo and Alfonso Lara, playing different shades of frustration with the Spanish establishment.
Produced for Movistar+ in Europe, La Fortuna is the latest original international oddity used by AMC+ to augment its superior — Halt and Catch Fire! Rectify! Mad Men! — series library. Very few of the shows, usually small-batch co-productions, would justify a full subscription cost (though the post-pandemic Italian drama Anna made my Top 10 for last year). Many of them — think Kin, The North Water, Spy City and more — would make for fast, if qualitatively mixed binges if you’re already subscribed. Without getting fooled into thinking it’s truly a globe-trotting, treasure-hunting romp, put La Fortuna in that class.
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