Nine Queens

(Nueve Reinas)

The first film that comes to mind when watching Nine Queens is The Usual Suspects, for both its use of comedy and surprising twists. Continuous backstabbing is the order of the day for Marcos and Juan, two smalltime crooks that specialize in scams. Juan (Gaston Pauls, Nuts for Love, Merry Christmas) is the novice. He may not know all the scams, but he is smart and can think on his feet. Marcos (Ricardo Darin, Son of the Bride, The Escape) is a master, who knows all the tricks of how to con people out of money. They meet when Marcos espies Juan in the process of a con, and takes an interest in him. Marcos' partner is missing, so he offers to teach Juan the trade. After all, two minds are better than one.

The two soon find themselves with a golden opportunity; an out-of-town businessman is here for a few days, and wants to buy the Nine Queens, a rare sheet of stamps from the Weimar Republic. For Marcos, this means there is an opportunity to sell this man forged stamps, so that he can pocket thousands of dollars in profit. It looks like a simple scam (with the only difference being the payout) but writer/director Fabian Belinsky refuses to let them off easy. The crooks are not the only people who are greedy in Nine Queens. Everybody wants money. And the more people that Marcos asks for help, the lower his payout percentage becomes. It soon becomes difficult keeping track of who is trying to pull one over whom. The only pristine person seems to be Valeria (Leticia Bredice, Burnt Money, Clams and Mussels), Marcos' sister. She works in the hotel where his scam will go down, and detests him.

There is nothing really original per se in Belinsky's script. All of it borrows from other movies like the aforementioned Usual Suspects, The Sting, or David Mamet movies like The Spanish Prisoner or Heist. Belinksy resolves this problem by making everything so fun. There is a sense of gleeful amorality watching Marcos and Juan at work, especially when Marcos tries to scam Juan (and this happens often). Juan is extremely paranoid that Marcos will steal his share away from him, and is always cautious. The one big downer is that the ending is painfully obvious fifteen minutes into the film. It is clear what will happen and what the true nature of some of the characters really are. Still, just because the conclusion is foregone doesn't mean that Belinsky cannot have fun with the story along the way.

On another note, Nine Queens is a nice showcase for Darin and Argentinean cinema. In a short amount of time, two films from Argentina made it here domestically, one of them, Son of the Bride, with the added prestige of an Oscar nomination. These are two very different films that show the potential diversity in a market otherwise ignored by distributors here. These also give Darin two very different roles, and prove that he can really act. He is perfectly at home here as a career swindler as he was a man undergoing a crisis in Son of the Bride. Pauls and Bredice serve as adequate foils, but Darin steals every scene he is in.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 54 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles, Rated R for language.

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