May 29, 2005

MOVIES: Nine Queens (Fabian Bielinsky, 2000)

Juan is pulling a small-time con on a gas station clerk when things go wrong. A stranger steps in with an improvised con of his own to save Juan from being arrested. That stranger turns out to be Marcos, a con man who just happens to be in need of a partner, and thinks that Juan (despite his inexperience) might fit the bill. And on their first day of working together, an enormous opportunity falls into their laps, involving a millionaire who's about to be deported and a phony sheet of rare stamps.

And that's the setup for Nine Queens, a very smart and snappy con caper from Argentina, full of twists and double-crosses and plans gone bad. When the final twists are revealed, the plot falls completely to pieces, of course -- there are far too many coincidences and moments where the plan only works if the mark reacts in one specific way -- but that's to be expected in a con man story. This kind of movie isn't about whether the plot holds up in retrospect; it's about the journey, and writer-director Fabian Bielinsky gives us a terrific rollercoaster ride.

There was a US remake last year, Criminal, starring John C. Reilly and Diego Luna. I can't imagine that it was as good as the original, but I am curious now to see it, just to see what was changed (there's one plot point late in the point that would be nearly impossible to make work in an American context) and how badly they screwed it up.

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