Nine Queens (2001, Argentina)

Starring Ricardo Darin

My Rating:

Kind of cool con-game film with a deleterious twist at the end.
Add 1/4 star if you like all kinds of plot twists, even those that don't really work.

Bitable Bytes:
"Captures the Sense of the Grift!"
"All I Can Say Is, 'It's Good'...!"
"Will Entertain Those Who Like Tangled Plots!"
"Excitement, Intensity, Artistic Interest!"

What to do while watching:
Try to guess what's coming next

What to eat while watching:
Pop corn with curry powder.

The Sting: Has there been a con-game movie before or since that so cleanly captures the sense of the grift? The twists and turns in that film are certainly intended to throw off the viewer--who, after all, can be considered a mark for Hollywood's con game. But at the end of The Sting, when the dust settles and everyone laughs at the success of the fleecing, it's clear that the story has been one well-crafted plot twist from beginning to end. That's the beauty of successful plot convolutions: they are surprising, even jarring, but in the end they achieve perfect cohesion.

I think of Fight Club when I think of movies that make twists successfully. That one concludes with a revelation which recasts the whole movie in an entirely new light. I have friends who watched the film a second time just to make sure that it held up under its own violent gyration, and they said that, yes, it does work. Perhaps we could take points away from Fight Club for being the kind of film that makes careful viewers feel the need to double-check, or we could give it bonus points for instilling that uncertainty, yet delivering cohesion under scrutiny.

And I recently watched and reviewed Memento, a film with a reversed narrative flow. It's strange how everything is revealed backwards, but the suspense is generated intoxicatingly as we see the past, not the future, unfold. And the plot twists have a built-in double check in that the tale must have been outlined in chronological order first before it could be chopped up and shown in reverse.

Which brings me, finally, to Nine Queens, a con-game movie that attempts a drastic twist at the very end of the movie. All I can say is, it's good that the twist comes at the tail end. Just before the twist, the penultimate scene has Juan (Gastón Pauls) riding off in a subway. As that scene faded to black, Mrs. Worsted said, "That's a great ending." Indeed, it would have been. So, when you watch this, if you watch it, stop the tape there and rewind.

The story is that of Juan, a young and inexperienced con man who has turned to crime in order to raise bail for his father, a con man now living in jail and doomed to a quick and possibly merciless sentencing if his son cannot help him. Attempting a shuck at a convenience store, Juan's funny math at the cash register is exposed. It looks like he's in deep trouble when Marcos (Ricardo Darin) steps in pretending to be a cop. Marcos liberates not only Juan, but also the bills in question as evidence.

Soon, Marcos reveals himself to be the seasoned con man in town. He proposes a partnership with Juan because his prior partner has taken it on the lam. Pointing out Juan's innocent face as a strength and tempting Juan with the major leagues of crime, he gets Juan to agree to be his accomplice for a day. Not to give it away, but the facts in this scene can only mean that the setup is already underway; and yet subsequent details, including the way characters behave when they're alone, suggests that the dramaturgist was reviewing the script while on vacation in Jamaica.

Master and apprentice pull a few scams around town until around midday when a much larger fish lands in their lap. An ailing counterfeiter friend of Marcos has made a masterpiece: a forgery of a set of stamps--the nine queens. It also turns out that a rich man, set to be deported from Argentina that day, is staying in town and may be interested in buying the stamps. He is staying at the hotel where Marcos' estranged sister and gullible younger brother work.

What follows is a convoluted mass of double-crosses, setups, and accidents, both happy and unhappy. So much depends on lucky circumstances or human response that it becomes impossible to figure out who is setting up whom. This confusion will entertain those who like tangled plots. But it's also why the end twist can be left off the film for an improvement: those who like tangled plots to eventually untangle may be less than thrilled with the last scene.

Attempting to wrap everything up into a nice, neat reverse-counter-meta-double-cross would be great--like The Sting--if it worked. But to believe it would require us to believe that the master plotters have an infallible sense of human response and an ability to control accidents, bystanders, and the economic system of Argentina.

Frankly, the film holds together in the sense that it has two main actors and one main actress throughout. And it holds together in the sense that it's all in Spanish with English subtitles. But the plot doesn't hold together as well as these two other aspects.

And that's too bad, because otherwise, the film has some excitement, intensity, and artistic interest, particularly the collage of criminals that comes early in the movie. It also makes some statements about honesty and dishonesty and the culture of Argentina and the western world in general. It's amusing that every character, while in the process of scamming, extorting, blackmailing, or bilking other people insists, "I am not a thief." Reminds me of a U.S. president's precedent.

In doing some research for this review, I again found that many people are willing to apply looser standards to film. Many people spoke highly of how well the plot twist works. So, I will say that if you are easily led and are typically forgiving of movies, you may get quite a kick out of this adventure. Otherwise, don't forget to stop the tape just as the subway scene fades to black.

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For your collection: Nine Queens (DVD), Nine Queens (VHS)

Gooden's Listening To: Manu Chau: Clandestino

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