After rescuing him from a botched con trick, experienced grifter Marcos takes small-time operator Juan under his wing for a day. Together, they get involved in a scam involving the sale of some rare stamps (the nine queens of the title). But who's scammin who
Marking the debut of Argentinian writer-director Fabien Bielinsky, Nine Queens belongs to a rich tradition of films about con artists that includes Peter Bogdanovich's brilliant Paper Moon, Stephen Frears' The Grifters and pretty much every movie David Mamet has ever made.
Bielinsky apparently got his break after he won a screenplay competition - he was given funding for the movie, and the result is a brilliantly written film that cleverly manages to out-Mamet Mamet.
The film is set in present-day Buenos Aires, but it could be anywhere, as the action mostly takes place in hotels, restaurants, cafes and convenience stores. Bielinsky sets the tone of the film right from the opening scene, with Juan's small-time con-artist getting greedy by trying to pull the same 'change' trick on successive cashiers in the same store, and Marcos' older, wiser grifter stepping in to rescue him by posing as a policeman.
From then on, the script delights in piling on the twists so that the audience is never sure whom to trust and is immediately suspicious of each new character and their motives. Indeed, much of the pleasure of the film is derived from the fact that, time and time again, just as you think you've figured it out, something happens that forces you to completely re-think your theory. And, sure enough, the film keeps you guessing right up until the end.
Bielinsky cleverly ensures that neither angel-faced Juan nor the vaguely saturnine Marcos are entirely likeable characters (Marcos in particular isn't above pimping out his own sister in order to clinch a deal), though both Gaston Pauls and Ricardo Daren give immensely charismatic and assured performances.
There's also good support from Leticia Bredice as Marcos' embittered sister (who has her own reasons for getting involved with the latest scam), and Ignasi Abadal as a particularly sleazy stamp-collector.
Yes. Terrific performances, snappy photography and a razor-sharp script combine to make this one of the most enjoyable films of the year. David Mamet, eat your heart out.
Reviewed by Matthew Turner