Nine Queensrecommended viewing

I know you're screwing me, I just don't know how
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2000
Director: 
Fanian Bielinsky
Starring: 
Gaston Pauls, Ricardo Darin, Graciela Tenenbaum, Gabriel Correa
The Setup: 
Two cons join forces to perform a big job together.
Discussion: 

I have been hearing good things about this since it came out, and was always vaguely interested in seeing it and, well, dreams really do come true. And it was quite fun and entertaining, while perhaps being a touch TOO crowd-pleasing, not to mention that I have zero confidence that it all makes sense if you were to work it out. But I have no interest in working it all out.

We open in a gas station convenience store. This is all happening in Argentina. This blonde dude with somewhat of a baby face, Juan, fumbles around, as the other guy we recognize from the poster and DVD cover lurks around as well. Juan buys a few items and does the low-level con where you say you don't have change for a large bill, then you DO have change, and end up pocketing a chunk of money. He does it on one clerk, then the shift changes, and another clerk comes out--and Juan tries it again on her. But! The first clerk and manager come out. and it looks like Juan is going to be arrested, when the darker guy, Marcos, comes over, pretends to be a cop, and "arrests" Juan, getting him safely out of the store. Turns out these two didn't know each other at all, they just recognized a fellow grifter. Marcos tries to convince Juan to join him in larger scams, and learn from the master, as it is obvious that Juan is less experienced, and they finally agree that Juan will follow Marcos for the day. In here I learned an amusing term; "Canned," which means sent to the can, or prison. Hmmmm. You learn something new every day.

So they start walking around, doing scams and getting to know each other. Juan seems like a total rube, wanting 70 thousand for his father, and needing money fast, making him desperate. He tells of how his father taught him all the grifting tricks, then was sorry, and seems to have this major father complex. Marcos goes to a phone, calls someone, says "Arrange it," and hangs up. He then tells Juan that he's too soft and their partnership won't work, and you know this is all meant to enflame Juan to commit even further. It works.

They are called to see this old, ill guy who has called from the luxury hotel where Marcos' sister, Valeria works. She is a hot number, and Juan is clearly into her, although she seems to have no love for her brother, which may have something to do with him screwing her and his younger brother out of money that was due them from their grandfather's death. Marcos makes no bones about being a grifter who WILL try to make money off anyone and everyone, even his friends and family. Anyway, they meet this old, sick fellow who has forged the Nine Queens, this ultra-rare set of stamps worth a ton of money. And there's a dignitary staying in the hotel, Vidal Gandolfo, who is super into stamps, but is leaving the next day, so this has to happen TODAY. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Marcos demands 90% of the take from the forger! Because he knows the guy NEEDS him, and must be desperate or he wouldn't have called Marcos, whom he pretty much despises. And the guy has to agree. This whole aspect--of being immersed in this underworld of criminals and grifters who understand that money comes before all other considerations, such as family and friendship, and that the only thing you can count on is that even your best associate WILL try to rook you if he sees a chance. When they leave, Juan begs for a place in the deal, since he needs the money for his father. And a few times in the movie, Juan says he knows Marcos must be screwing him somehow, but he can't figure out how.

There are, as you can imagine, several twists and turns, some fairly ingenious, but I'll save those for you to discover, and only mention a few points. One important thing Marcos says at one point is that Juan has a very valuable asset, which is that he "looks like a nice guy." At a certain point this guy appears suddenly who knows the stamps are a forgery and wants a cut to ensure his silence. That's another aspect of what's best about this movie--the sense that once the underground sniffs out a big job, a thousand people appear from nowhere to whittle away at the big payday.

So the stakes keep getting raised! The characters must question how far they're willing to go! The window keeps getting narrower! And as it goes into its second half, a voice inside you starts to say "Okay, wait. So this is all happening in ONE DAY? And Juan and Marcos just HAPPENED to meet that morning? And they just HAPPENED to decide that Juan will have a "training day" with Marcos, and this just HAPPENED to be the day this giant scam is going down?" And so it all starts to seem quite unlikely--unless there is some grand secret at the end waiting to reverse everything and have it all make sense. And unfortunately, this puts one at a bit of a distance from getting involved in the film [I mean, unless you're dumb], because you know that on some level, it's just toying with you. So you end up like Juan, saying "I know you're screwing me, I just don't know how."

SPOILERS > > >
I'll spoil it enough to let you know that there IS some grand reversal right at the end. And while it supplies a good "A-ha!" moment--and really, when ISN'T a good moment to listen to A-Ha?--afterward you look back and the whole thing looks REALLY shaky. The coincidences and entire chains of events built on chance occurrences, or bets that someone WILL respond to something in some way, when there's no guarantee they will... it all seems really suspect. But you, like me, might simply not have enough interest in going back to work it all out. So you just have that feeling of leaving the cheap roadside carnival: I had a good time, but I probably got screwed somehow. Oh well, the cotton candy was good.
< < < SPOILERS END

But for the most part, that really isn't much of a problem. The world of these criminals and the murky rules and features of it is at least half of the content here, and that part is impeccable. And it must be said, this movie is really fun. It has a lot of good twists and unexpected turns and keeps you on your toes and there's a surprise around every corner, so even if you have the sneaking suspicion that it might not all fit neatly together, you don't really care much. This movie was remade in the States as Criminal, with John C. Reilly, Diego Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Majority opinion is that it is just a faithful English-language translation of this one, so I'm not running out to get it. And there ya are: A very fun twist-a-thon caper film with psychological aspects that may or may not hold together, but is really fun while it lasts.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, especially if you like twisty caper flicks.