Nine Queens

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/08/05 22:04:46

"A geniune treat for fans of the con man genre."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In most caper films, we see a good amount of intricate planning done before the main heist. “Nine Queens” ignores that idea completely, giving us characters that more or less make up their caper as they go along. This winging-it style gives the film a loose, casual feel, as we follow our criminal heroes from one complicated situation to the next.

The title refers to a rare sheet of stamps that falls (sort of) into the hands of two con men, the experienced Marcos (Ricardo Darín) and the newbie Juan (Gastón Pauls). In just one day, the two meet and begin working some small time scams together. That’s when Marcos gets a call from an old partner (Óscar Núñez), a counterfeiter who has a copy of the Nine Queens and a plan to sell them to an incurable collector (Ignasi Abadal) who - seeing as he’s about to be deported - will make an impulse buy without a thorough check of the stamps.

As caper movies go, this one’s a beauty. There’s an underlying hint of who’s-conning-whom here, but unlike most con-game movies, the switcheroos are few enough (and, quite frankly, funny enough) that the audience doesn’t spend all of its time looking for the tricks. The surprising lack of twists when you expect them allows for more fun from the twists that occur when you don’t expect them. (In other words, the twists here are less set-ups and more accidents, and the fun comes from watching Marcos and Juan try to recover and rebuild their plan.)

Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky, “Nine Queens” gives us a great little caper punctuated by some amazing crime movie moments. The best of these is an early monologue from Darín, who explains why his character is not a “thief.” He shows us the various criminals around, from pickpockets to con artists. It’s an important theme, and a recurring one; when Marcos asks a slick hot-items salesman if he has any guns for sale, the guy, mildly offended, replies the mantra of the film: “I’m not a thief.”

“Nine Queens” also has more depth than your usual caper flick, as Bielinsky concentrates more on character than on tricking the audience. Marcos, it turns out, has swindled his parents’ inheritance from his siblings. Meanwhile, Juan’s father needs some quick cash to bribe a judge and get out of prison. Both stories provide the backbone for the plot and give the leads a greater motivation than simple greed.

By the end of the film, these are people we really know, not just generic pawns in a game of Stump the Audience. This way, when we do get stumped, the impact is greater, and the twists feel less gimmicky. “Nine Queens” is a delicious crime drama on par with the slickest of Mamet. It’s a hell of a movie and a wonderful chunk of entertainment.

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