Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nine Queens (Nueve Reinas) 2000 ****1/2

Fans of “long con” movies like “The Grifters” and “The Sting” will appreciate “Nine Queens” as a respectful, perfectly crafted version of the classic theme. Those less versed in the con game will delight in the plot twists, getting treated to the taut filmmaking style of late Argentinean director Fabian Bielinsky and superb performances by stars Ricardo Darin and Gaston Pauls.
Have you ever wondered how easy it would be to con a few bucks out of a stranger? Juan (Gaston Pauls) and Marcos (Ricardo Darin) make their living out of small con jobs, cheating store clerks and old ladies out of 20, 40, or a hundred bucks. The two meet up, and the more experienced Marcos takes Juan under his wing, suggesting they merge their talents. Together they pound the pavements of Buenos Aires, working harder and making less per hour than most folks with real jobs. They are low-lifes with low aspirations, and one is led to wonder why they expend so much energy and take such risks for such small amounts. The answer, of course, is that it isn’t about the money. They do it for the thrill of putting on a little show, fooling someone else, and getting away with it.
“Nine Queens” takes its first big turn when these small timers get a shot at something big. A call from an old acquaintance of Marcos’s puts them in a position to make hundreds of thousands of dollars selling a set of counterfeit stamps called the Nine Queens to a collector. The question, as in all these grift movies, is “Who is really getting conned?”
I won’t ruin any more of the plot except to say that the payoff at the end is truly a class act. I must also take a moment to praise the outstanding acting of Darin and Pauls. Forgive me if I start to sound all giddy, but these guys are amazing! I first saw Ricardo Darin in “The Aura”, and the difference between his semi-autistic character in that film and his charmer in “Nine Queens” is a testament to Darin’s range. I think it would be fair to compare him to someone like Tom Hanks, and it is easy to see why he is a huge star in Argentina. Gaston Pauls also gives a superb performance in “Nine Queens” as a con-man hobbled by a conscience.
Writer/Director Bielensky keeps the action moving at a taut pace. As they say in the movie theatres, “Eight bucks gets you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge!” I have to say again, as I did in my review of Bielensky’s “The Aura,” what a shame it is for the art that this filmmaker died after making only two films. Were he still making movies, I think he would have become a brand name in the world of Spanish-language cinema on the order of Pedro Almodovar. As for “Nine Queens,” the film has been adapted into an Americanized version called “Criminal,” starring John C. Reilly. I haven’t seen it, and I haven’t yet decided whether to check it out. Maybe I’ll just get my own copy of “Nine Queens” instead.
4.5 stars out of 5

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