Nine Queens

on April 19, 2002 by Kevin Courrier
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   "Nine Queens" is a polished and vastly entertaining caper film that puts the sting back into the con. Fabian Bielinsky, in his award-winning feature debut, smoothly amuses the audience with a deftly elaborate shell game. He provides a divertingly sharp character study that examines the question of honor among thieves.

   Juan (Gaston Pauls) is a small-time crook who gets caught conning a convenience store clerk. Marcos (Ricardo Darin), a big-time swindler, steps in to "arrest" him--with the hope of recruiting him for a bigger job. Soon Marcos' sister, Valeria (Leticia Bredice), contacts him from a luxury hotel where Juan and Marcos team up for a ruse to obtain a counterfeit collection of some extremely rare stamps known as the Nine Queens. Since they have a buyer already in mind, their plan seems airtight--until other scam artists and derailed strategies send their promising racket into comic episodes of misadventure.

   In "Nine Queens," the performances turn out to be just as smartly deceptive as the story. Ricardo Darin demonstrates some of the same suave malevolence that Alan Rickman displays in his charming villainous roles. Gaston Pauls also shows a sly discernment as the supposedly innocent Juan. The stunning Leticia Bredice meanwhile struts alluringly with a fiery confidence, never overplaying her hand.

   Although "Nine Queens" is no more than a cleverly-constructed confection, Bielinsky doesn't turn cute, or pander to the audience, in the way director George Roy Hill did in "The Sting." The movie may lack some of the shivering malice of "The Grifters," but "Nine Queens" still manages to play a winning hand.    Starring Gaston Pauls, Ricardo Darin, Leticia Bredice and Tomas Fonzi. Directed and written by Fabian Bielinsky. Produced by Pablo Bossi. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Spanish-language; subtitled. Rated R for language. Running time: 115 min. Opens 1/11/02.

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