3 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
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From Argentina, here’s one of those a scam within a sting within a con films that’s thoroughly entertaining to watch but not terribly original, really. Juan (Pauls) is a gentle swindler, making money slowly to pay off his father’s debts when he runs into Marcos (Darin), a slick conman who takes him under his wing for one day. Soon though it becomes apparent that Juan is naturally gifted, especially at improvisation, so the duo take on a huge scam to sell nine rare 1930s German stamps to a Spanish businessman (Abadal). Of course, there are twists galore as nothing goes to plan as Marcos’ feisty sister (Bredice) and naive brother (Fonzi) get involved … and Juan gets increasingly suspicious that he’s being had.
The fact that there are so many plot turns alerts us to the fact that we shouldn’t take anything at face value, so the subsequent revelations aren’t much of a surprise, really. These kinds of films are a genre unto themselves, so unless the story is extremely well written with quite a lot of subtlety, it all seems just a bit too obvious. And that’s the problem here. Yes, it’s great fun to try to keep a step ahead of the action. Yes, the performances are excellent, especially Pauls as the plain-faced nice guy who’s up to something, or maybe not. And Darinis superb as the devilish villain trying to act like things are out of control, or maybe not. Besides his Mamet-like script, writer-director Bielinsky has a few aces up his sleeve visually; one scene involving a stamp expert and a paper shredder recalls that unbearably tense drug-deal sequence in Boogie Nights. If only the twists were more surprising, this would be a real gem.

Posted on January 26, 2004 in Reviews by

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