Nine Queens review by Matt Fuerst


Ah the joy of the heist flick. What I think I enjoy most about the heist flick is the ingenuity that I feel a writer has to put into it. When the reveals and twists of the storyline work, it's like being a kid in a candy store, I am literally giddy with excitement at watching the heist go down. I'm all about the planning, honor amongst thieves and the witty patter that always seems to be exchanged when a group of thieves get together. I suppose we in the US should tip our hats to England for bringing the heist flick to our shores, but other countries know the tricks too. Nine Queens presents the Argentinean heist flick with a heaping serving of Mamet sprinkled throughout.

Juan (Gastn Pauls) is a petty thief hopped up before his attempt to swipe $95 from a gas station through some sleight of hand. His con comes off successful, but when he sees a shift change occurring before his eyes, he gets sloppy and greedy and waits 30 seconds before trying the grift again. Of course the previous attendant bumps into him leaving, thus busting Juan. The police aren't far away as a man busts from the aisle and places Juan under arrest. From a simple slip up Juan is about to head to a very bad place for a very long time. But alas, "officer" Marcos (Ricardo Darn), actually a con man himself, sensed one of his own and simply impersonated an officer and walked off with the criminal and the money. Marcos offers to take Juan under his wing for a one day "trial period" as it were. Marcos offers to help Juan move beyond the sleight-of-hand tricks and into where the real money is, real "grift" work. Juan, the son of a con man, knows better and knows full well that nothing comes for free, and a con man offering to help out of the good will of his heart doesn't happen in their line of work. But, desperate for money (aren't all the con men?) Juan agrees to give it a try for the day.

Some character development action occurs as we follow Juan and Marcos through an afternoon of grifting. It looks like Juan may have made a bad decision, Marcos is far more gruff and heartless than Juan (who attempts to justify stealing from a big corporate gas station but can't forgive himself for taking $100 from a grandmother) but they spend the afternoon working petty cons and not scoring any real dough. The breakthrough occurs when Marcos' sister, Valeria (Leticia Brdice) calls him furious. Marcos' previous wingman, Sandler (scar Nez) is sitting near death in the hotel she manages, and she knows full well con men only show up to con people out of money. Marcos and Juan arrive on the scene and learn the workup: Sandler is aware that a rich criminal, Vidal Gondalfo (Ignasi Abadal) is spending his last day in Argentina in the hotel. He has one weakness, his hobby: stamp collecting. Sandler is an artist with access to a very rare stamp, the Nine Queens. He has made an exact duplicate out of genuine 1920 era paper, but when it came time to work the con, being a simple artist, he froze. The stamps won't hold up against scientific testing but with short timeframe Gandolfo is working on he won't be able to thoroughly check them out.

The twists and turns continue as Juan and Marcos suffer from both the highs and lows of the con racket. They have the stamps sold, then lose them, just to regain them again. The entire time Juan is keeping his eye on Marcos. He knows full well this may all end up being a setup by Marcos to get something from him. He's not sure what, until fate takes a turn when the two come up exactly $50,000 short to complete the deal. $50,000, just happening to be the exact amount that Juan has saved from his cons. Juan knows that Marcos is trying to steal it from him, but he cannot figure out how Marcos is going to steal his money.

I really enjoyed myself during Nine Queens. I must say it's fairly light on in depth cons. The first hour has a few tricks that the fellows pull, but the thrust of the first half of the story is the development of Juan and Marcos. We learn that Juan is the light-hearted guy, he knows that he looks innocent and with the right motivation is willing to use that to his advantage. Marcos is ruthless and heartless, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done and better his own standing. There is much tension between Marcos and Valeria since Marcos stole the family inheritance and in turn sued Valeria to keep her off his tail. While not personally menacing, when Marcos threatens that he will kill, we understand completely that he would if it suited him. It's interesting that even the audience falls for Juan and his babyface. Truly he isn't any better than Marcos, he pulls the same larcenies on the same people, yet the viewer instinctively feels for him and desperately wants him to avoid getting taken by Marcos.

Once the con starts I was feeling really into it. There are really a lot of parallels between Nine Queens and House of Games except Nine Queens has a very attractive leading lady and I found the con to be far more interesting. Oh yeah, the dialogue doesn't sound like balsa wood either (+1 more point for NQ). We are kept off balance as the con men have their initial success with the stamps, only to receive a setback, and be forced into a situation that neither of them are particularly happy with. Ah, the extent the con man will go for their $450,000 payday. But once the moneys in hand, we really do know better than to expect the film to be over. No catharsis, we're still waiting for the shoe to drop: how is Marcos going to screw Juan over?

Nine Queens is a very welcome entry to the heist flick. Good characterizations throughout the film, there is no hurry to the pacing and yet the film doesn't lag (and I find it easier for a subtitled film to lag, in general). The con well thought out and delivers the goods. I'm gonna keep my eye out for some more entries from Argentina.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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