Tyler was a bit worried about the poor reception of last time’s film – so he decided to go with a film he had never seen. I’m not sure what this says about the films Tyler HAS seen, but that’s beside the point.
Also beside the point (but at least traditionally mentioned), Tyler picked out a couple of shorts which had nothing whatsoever to do with the film. The first was quite brief, and goes by the pedestrian title of “Window Washer”.
The second was a bit longer. It’s a performance of a song by Rob Cantor, a song which is perhaps the only song ever written about Hollywood Superstar Shia LaBoeuf (unless he once dated Taylor Swift, in which case all bets are off!)
The feature film was a 2000 Argentinian offering known as Nueve Reinas (“Nine Queens”), written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky. Being an Argentinian film, it naturally stars Ricardo Darín – but on the bright side, I really kind of like Ricardo Darín and I’m not burned out on him yet, so that’s not such a bad thing.
The film opens, as some do (say, “Clerks”) in a convenience store with a young con artist named Juan pulling a “quick change” scam. He pulls it off, but when the cashier he cons immediately goes on break, he tries to pull the same scam on the replacement cashier. Unfortunately for Juan, the first cashier immediately returns with the manager for another reason, wises up, and the manager seizes him. But luckily for him, a veteran con man by the name of Marcos is also in the store, intently watching Juan work. He feigns being a police officer and whisks Juan away – eventually revealing himself and casually asking Juan if he wants to partner up. Juan, looking for money to bribe a judge to spring his con man father from prison, eventually agrees to hook up for one day and then see where it goes.
But what a day! They pull a couple of small-time cons and are getting along pretty well when Marcos’ sister, a manager at a ritzy hotel, starts trying to contact him. Valeria and Marcos don’t get along very well due to his legal efforts to seize the entirety of an inheritance they ought to have shared (along with a third, younger brother), but she reluctantly calls him because a former partner of his has suffered some sort of acute illness at her hotel and is asking for Marcos.
The old man is a forger, and has forged a sheet of rare stamps (the “Nine Queens”) based off of originals owned by his sister-in-law. He has identified a perfect mark to sell the faux stamps to – a rich philatelist who is coincidentally being forced to leave the country to evade authorities and also coincidentally staying at this very hotel for one night before fleeing for good. With the old man unable to carry out his one-shot scheme, and apparently with nowhere else to turn, he has called on Marcos despite them having had a falling out in the past. Marcos agrees to take over the deal, and naturally negotiates a very favorable deal for himself – and Juan, who is reluctant to go forward with the scheme but is again eventually convinced.
There’s quite a long string of events that need to go down for the sale to take place. Marcos has to get his hands on the fake stamps (which the old man has left at home with his unknowing wife), they have to find a way to subtly inform the philatelist that they’ve got a sheet to sell, the stamps have got to pass a verification step, they later have to promise a portion to the expert who verified the stamps (because he knew they were fake and he blackmails them) … but they finally close the sale, to be effected later that evening.
And while they’re walking down the street a pair of thieves on a moped snatch the stamps and throw them in the river.
But Marcos comes up with a brilliant plan to save the once-in-a-lifetime deal: get the REAL stamps. Just convince the rightful owner that you’re going to broker a deal. They just have to buy the stamps! Marcos manages to negotiate the widow down to 250,000 – 200K of which he can put up and 50K of which is the exact amount that Juan has as a starter for his dad. Juan eventually agrees to buy in, and amazingly, all of this works. But when they go to sell the real stamps, the philatelist changes the deal – since he finds Valeria attractive, he wants a night of pleasure with her on top of the proffered price. And Marcos has to convince her to do it – which she will only do if he tells the truth about his legal inheritance-stealing to his fawning little brother. He does. And he gets kicked in the berries for it, but Valeria holds up her end.
She sells the stamps and gets payment – in the form of a cashier’s check. And despite the fact that such a thing is as good as cash and after a long night they ought to be able to cash it when the bank opens, it turns out that there have been some issues with the ethics of the bank, and it’s being shut down. That very day. The check is useless. A dejected Juan, who has been wary of being scammed by Marcos the entire time and now loses everything in a legit deal gone horribly wrong, just walks away. The end.
Oh wait. It’s not the end.
It really should have been. The whole question throughout the entire movie is whether or not Marcos was pulling a scam on Juan. Juan is hardly ever fully convinced that all of this is real, yet he eventually gives over all of his money, trusting a fellow con man. As the movie ends, it really looks as if there was no scam at all, just a very remarkable series of events – and that would have been a great ending. But the denouement reveals that it was in fact Juan (AND Valeria, AND the forger, AND the widow, AND the philatelist, AND just about every other character in the entire damn film) who was scamming Marcos, who they have now effectively taken for 200,000.
Now let’s at least point out that many of these people have motivation to dislike Marcos – inheritance, being screwed in other deals, and the like – but the entire setup is ludicrous. Could Marcos have scammed Juan here? Maybe. But the reverse setup is unrealistic simply because from the very start it is Marcos that takes the lead. And it really was a one-time chance – not because the philatelist was leaving the country, but because the bank was being raided in the morning. After all of this long choreographed day, the only way to cleanly get the money from Marcos is to get him to believe that the check was good barring government seizure of the bank, which is happening on a particular day. They had an insider to tell them about the raid, but it can’t have been more than a day or two in advance, right? And they put together this incredibly complicated plot which the victim has to cooperate in unwittingly at probably five different steps involving dozens of accomplices in…maybe a day or two?
One of the reasons I loved King of California is that for as much as it tried to convince you that Michael Douglas’ character was chasing a big red herring, in the end the story at face value was true. Here, the film tries to get you to think that Marcos may be scamming Juan, and then finally convinces you that the story at face value is true. And that’s where it should have ended. But no, then the ending twists the whole thing in a manner that doesn’t seem to be held up by the first hour-forty-five of the film.
It’s a fun journey as a film, it really is. The acting was good, the pacing was great, it was complicated but easy to follow at the same time. It just shot itself in the foot in the end, in my opinion.