Given the number of recent films that have involved heists and con artists, one must conclude that we just can't get enough of a good thief. That is as opposed to a bad thief. Speaking strictly from a legal standpoint, there are no good guys in these films. Instead there are guys who make breaking the law seem both inevitable and charming. The swindlers have long-since outmaneuvered the police and the only remaining drama is finding out just how little honor there is among thieves.
There's a nice moment in the new film "Nine Queens" where two con artists - ostensibly a teacher and his student - stand on a busy Buenos Aries street corner. The teacher is attempting to salve his student's conscience by holding forth on the theory that everyone is a thief. As the camera jumps from boys on a scooter to businessmen on cell phones to all the other strangers we pass by without acknowledging, we are forced to concede that you can't trust anyone. That includes the directors of con artist films.
Fabian Bielinsky is the director of "Nine Queens" and his movie swept the 2001 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards. Bielinsky claims that while the film may be a timely reminder of the recent economic chaos and corruption in his country, his goal was simply to tell a story. "Nine Queens" is the story of a young swindler named Juan, who is rescued by a total stranger after botching a small time con. The stranger turns out to be a professional con man named Marcos, who just happens to be looking for a new partner. Over the course of what is, in hindsight, an amazingly busy 24 hours, the two men will take turns demonstrating their bread and butter cons, testing each others improvisational ability, drawing out unguarded bits of personal information, and evolving into a well-oiled team just in time to have a once-in-a-lifetime swindle drop into their laps.
Now one thing they teach every senior citizen with a nest egg is to never put up your own cash, no matter how nice the stranger seems or how sure a thing the payoff may sound. In "Nine Queens" both of our experienced con artists are asked to put up their entire life savings in order to pull off the job. And at this point we know something is even more amiss than in your average richly layered con movie.
And when we get to the final reveal, that moment when we realize that everything is not what it seems? Well perhaps it's not "Nine Queens" fault that it has been preceded by many a clever con movie, most notably David Mamet's "House of Games." But while "Nine Queens" gets its big "a-ha" it is followed by a slow-dawning "huh?" For to get that extra twist, it asks you not only to accept the ultimate cleverness of the con artist, but a universal synchronicity of the highest order.
Given everyone who would need to be compensated, the con artists could probably have made the same money had they all chipped in on a nice conservative no-load mutual fund. But I guess the point is....what?s the fun in that?
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 4/24/02
Argentina - 2000