Of late, the scam-cum-caper movie seems to have lost its head. Look at Hollywood's recent attempts to pull a fast one: David Mamet's join-the-dots Heist, for example, or Frank Oz bringing all the edge of the Muppets to The Score. Ever get the feeling you've been had?
But with less money and no stars, director Fabián Bielinsky runs rings around the Tinseltown twisters with this frisky little scoundrel of a movie. You know a film's moving fast when you don't even want to give away the first five minutes. Suffice to say that the cards are dealt in a buddy-movie style, as hard-bitten scamster Marcos (Ricardo Darín) takes the relatively green Juan (Gastón Pauls) under his cynical wing. The likeable rogues test each other's street savvy on small-time hits at first. Then, a proper job comes their way: forgeries of nine Weimar-era stamps, which a collector staying at a hotel managed by Marcos' sister (Leticia Brédice) is willing to pay through the nose for... Once the stamps are stolen, all bets are off as to who's swindling who.
No one trusts anyone here, and both script and cast - - Darín, especially - - are so nimble and focused that the clues fairly zip by. The busy camera keeps you on your toes, too, staying on the move as if to pull the wool over your eyes and convince you you're watching something flash. In fact, it's a modest movie - just one with smarts to spare.
What's more, Bielinsky prevents this early Mamet-style tricksiness from vanishing up its Byzantine butt by pointing the film's thematic attentions outwards, too. It's a portrait of a city in crisis, in which Marcos and Juan's misbehaviour on the streets of Buenos Aires acts as a microcosm of the (slyly depicted) monetary corruption that accompanied Argentina's recent economic collapse. Made before the financial shit hit the money-shredding fan and Argentina suffered economic meltdown, Nine Queens is astonishingly on the money. So it's propulsive enough to take you for a ride, then, but with a political undercut to give it ballast. And if that doesn't get you thinking, the devilishly cheeky ending should do the trick.
It's about time someone made a caper movie with a few tricks up its sleeve, and this Fabián Bielinsky thriller has definitely got 'em. It's small, for sure, but nifty with it.