Nine Queens (2000) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 114 min.

Cast: Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls, Leticia Bredice, Tomas Fonzi, Graciela Tenembaum
Director: Fabian Bielinsky
Screenplay: Fabian Bielinsky
Review published April 2, 2002

Fans of David Mamet's con-men thrillers (House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, and The Heist) should definitely check out this solid take on the same themes from this Argentinean gem entitled Nine Queens (or Nueve Reinas, if you prefer).  Like those films, Nine Queens runs its themes deeper than just the grift to focus on such issues as trust, family and moral bankruptcy, which are the main struggles a person in the game confronts himself with on a daily basis.

Juan (Pauls, Blessed by Fire) is a two-bit swindler, pulling off nickel and dime jobs in order to earn enough money to get his father, who also pulled the same games, out of prison through bribery of the judge.  One day, while about to get caught in the middle of pulling the same job in the same place twice, another bigger fish named Marcos (Darin, The Secret in Their Eyes) saves his hide by posing as a cop, and later makes him an offer to work as his partner in the game.  Marcos lands a swift and easy job selling some rare stamps for an ailing acquaintance called the Nine Queens.  With Juan's help, Marcos lands the stamps and lures a rich buyer's interest in them, but there's some snags in what was to be a sure deal, and to continue, Juan put in all the money he had saved for his father to date and give it to a man who would screw his own brother out of his inheritance.

Up until the ending, Nine Queens is an entertaining and very interesting tale flowing back and forth between the characters, all of whom you'll suspect to have some secret agenda going on, yet not really knowing for sure.  Usually with a film like this, one party ends up pulling a fast one on the other, but Nine Queens sets itself up so that any one of several possible people could potentially have all the cards in the deal.  While the actual ending the film settles on is extremely far-fetched given all of the elements that would have had to proceed flawlessly, which seems like an impossibility if you really think back to the very beginning, the film isn't really about who wins or loses, but competing styles.  Juan is the con-man with loyalty and a sense of family, who does it all to help his father and who winces whenever Marcos, the con-man without scruples, swindles even old ladies out of their money.  While the ending may be hard to swallow, I'm pleased that Nine Queens was true to its themes and when you ultimately find out who's conning who, you appreciate that it doesn't sell them out just to fool you with something altogether unexpected just for unpredictability's sake.

Nine Queens is a well-acted, gorgeously directed, and finely written entertainment that will be sure to hold the interest of most viewers.  Recommended for anyone who isn't on the tourism board of Argentina.   

Qwipster's rating::

2002 Vince Leo