Burnt Money


             In Argentina in 1965, a group of criminals attempted a daring heist
     that went slightly awry. Using those actual events, Ricardo Piglia wrote
     the novel that forms the basis of  
BURNT MONEY, a terrific, wonderfully
     acted feature directed by Marcelo
Piñeyro and scripted by Marcelo Figueras.
     
             The botched job reached into the echelon of the government and
     also included a well-known but fallen from grace tango performer, a career
     gangster, and a trio of hotheaded, extremely attractive young men. The
     more prominent of the latter (and the unlikely anti-heroes of this film) are
     a pair known as The Twins, not because they are brothers or because they
     even look alike, but because they were a couple. Having met for a sexual
     rendezvous in a public place, the two, Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel
     (Eduardo Noriega), became inseparable, living -- and working -- together.
     Angel is the more troubled of the two: he claims to hear voices. But he's
     also the more pragmatic one, attempting to teach himself English so that
     when the duo leave Argentina for the United States, they will be able
     to assimilate. Nene, on the other hand, worries more about the here and
     now. When Angel is injured during the robbery attempt, Nene takes charge
     and nurses him back to health.

             The third young guy, Cuervo (Pablo Echarri), has been living with
     the sexy Vivi (Delores Fonzi) but he made the cardinal error of telling her
     too much. When the police identify the suspects in the robbery and come
     looking for the gang, Vivi rats them out and informs the authorities that
     the gang has fled to Uruguay with whatever money they managed to steal.
     Once their photos have hit the newspapers and a massive manhunt is
     launched, the trio must go underground and stay out of sight. That is a lot
     to ask and eventually the men seek comforts from various places. Angel,
     who spurns Nene's sexual advances, turns to drugs, spending most of his
     time alone in his room shooting up. Cuervo purchases a record player and
     some rock and roll albums. Nene proves the more adventurous of the trio,
     making forays out to a local carnival where he meets and begins a sexual
     relationship with part-time hooker Giselle (Leticia Brédice).

             On occasion, the trio go out together but in their suits, they appear
     square and out of place, especially at a beach party they crash, during
     which Angel's voices drive him to violence. One of the few failings of this
     otherwise fascinating movie is that no one seems to recognize these men
     (despite their pictures appearing in the newspapers and their occasional
     outbursts). By the time they have been found out, they seek refuge with
     Giselle with whom Nene has made plans to run away. When she discovers
     that Angel isn't exactly the brother Nene described and that the plan for
     her escaping her mundane life is unlikely, she betrays them. Her infraction
     sets up the film's final, preordained set piece.

             The acting is uniformly excellent, with Echarri offering a sterling
     portrait of machismo. Noriega, who ranks as one of the best actors of
     his generation, doesn't seem capable of giving a bad performance. Here
     he makes Angel understandable; there is a touch of madness about the
     character and the actor captures it well, but he also makes the audience
     see the love he feels for Nene. It is that love that propels him to make
     the decisions he does, however unwise they may be. As Nene, Sbaraglia
     anchors the film. Because Angel has become remote and unyielding,
     Nene goes off in search of comfort from another. He explains that he
     "turned queer" in jail, which accounts for his ability to fall for Giselle.
     Brédice offers fine support, making Giselle a fully rounded person and
     not just a stereotypical prostitute.

                     Piñeyro's direction is a bit languid and obvious at times, but he
     also shows a flair for creating memorable images, particularly as the plot
     picks up steam. The scenes at the carnival and at the beach stand out,
     as do shots of Angel wallowing in the prison of his own making. Despite
     some flaws,
BURNT MONEY is a tidy, well-acted little gem.


                             Rating:                 B
                             MPAA Rating:         R
                             Running time:        125 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.