on December 13, 2002 by Chris Wiegand
A strong concept, impeccable set pieces and the casting of Bergman regular Max Von Sydow make "Intacto," the feature debut of Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, an initially engrossing experience. However, as this sinister thriller twists and turns towards its intense denouement, the cracks begin to proliferate. It flounders primarily from saggy characterization (especially in the supporting parts), occasional longeurs and a maddeningly unwieldy narrative. With his first feature, Fresnadillo--whose short film "Linked" received an Oscar nomination five years ago--has perhaps crammed in a few ideas too many, rendering "Intacto" a promising work rather than a wholly pleasing one.

The film's knotty plot is pinned on the intriguing premise that certain individuals are innately lucky. At the heart of the picture is Von Sydow's character, Sam, a Jew who left a concentration camp emotionally lacerated yet physically intact. Recognized as the god of good luck, he's a potent figure--a man who has become helplessly drawn to extreme gameplay in which he flirts with fatality through a complex sense of inner guilt.

Sam has long nurtured the talents of Federico (Eusebio Poncela, familiar from Almodóvar's "Matador" and "Law of Desire"), who is also considered to have the gift of good luck, only to a lesser degree. When Sam and Federico fall out, the latter leaves in search of a contender to compete against Sam. His hunt leads him to Tomas (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the only survivor of a severe plane wreck. Together, the pair plan to bring down Sam.

"Intacto" is saved by Fresnadillo's visual virtuosity, best evinced in two thrilling blindfolded races--one through a densely thicketed forest and another across a busy highway. Xavier Jiménez's cinematography fits the film's tenebrous tone and there's some particularly accomplished art direction from Cesar Macarrón ("The Devil's Backbone"). Snapped up by Disney for a re-make, "Intacto" was nominated for a handful of Goya awards. Fresnadillo took home the gong for best new director. Starring Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Monica Lopez and Max Von Sydow. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Written by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Andres Koppel. Produced by Fernando Bovaira and Enrique López-Lavigne. Spanish-language; subtitled. A Lions Gate release. Thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 109 min

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