out of five
; 115 mins
The president of Uruguay recently described the citizens of Argentina as “thieves and cut-throats to a man”, a statement for which he was subsequently forced to apologise. But this debut film from director Fabian Bielinsky suggests he may have had a point.
The setting is Buenos Aires, the streets of which appear to be teeming with short con artists plying their trade. Among these are the swarthy Marcos and the deceptively innocent looking Juan. They decide to form a partnership after a chance encounter while on the job, and after a series of trivial scams they appear to hit paydirt when they get a tip from an old lag about some counterfeit stamps (the Nine Queens).
Juan and Marcos attempt to sell these to a rich hobbyist. To do this they have to go through a series of intermediaries who themselves may be less than genuine. The two grifters have to figure out who they can trust but first, can they trust each other?"
But, predictably enough, things are never quite what they appear.
Not Based on Originality
Bielinsky got the film into production by winning a screenwriting contest. Clearly, though, the award was not based on originality and if the prize also included any cash then David Mamet is surely due a large donation.
There’s no doubt Mamet’s House of Games is the main inspiration here, a film which Mamet himself remade as The Spanish Prisoner. As though that wasn’t enough, Mamet went on to repeat himself yet again with the inferior Heist. But none of these films holds a candle to the seminal scam film The Sting.
The script here doesn’t approach Mamet’s standard but is more than serviceable. What is superior are the characters and the grainy images, which lend authenticity, as do the unfamiliar actors. Ricardo Darin is particularly impressive as the brazen Marcos, while Gaston Pauls as Juan provides an effective counterpoint. The strength of this pair is what makes the film so watchable, but clever as the story is, you may end up feeling it’s a little too clever as you backtrack looking for loose ends, Memento style.
Enjoyable as it is in places, this is a film in which the characters will linger in the mind longer than the story. If you haven’t seen any of the aforementioned Mamet films then this is well worth checking out but if you have, then you’ll see the twists coming a mile off.
On a broader level, if Nine Queens tells you anything about the country that spawned the much-vilified ‘Hand of God’, it is that its current economic state is hardly surprising.