In Nine Queens, two grifters join forces to pull off the ultimate scam in an elaborate plot involving counterfeit stamps.
On a gritty Buenos Aires morning, a young con man named Juan (Gastón Pauls) enters a convenience store and tries to trick the cashier into giving him more change back with the old bill-switching scam. The trick backfires and the frantic clerk starts yelling for the manager. But an undercover cop munching on a hot dog at the counter witnesses the entire incident and hauls Juan away in a pair of handcuffs. Except the cop, Marcos ( Ricardo Darín), is not actually a cop but a fellow grifter helping out a fellow con man. Recognizing potential when he sees it, Marcos tells Juan he is in the market for a new partner and suggests they form a business alliance. Before you know it the two men encounter a former associate of Marcos' who just before keeling over from a stroke, informs them that a wealthy Venezuelan stamp collector is in town and gives them instructions on where to find a copy of the valuable stamps called the Nine Queens. An attempt to seal the deal sets off a string of double-dealings and second-guessings. Although stings and swindles have been a recurring theme in Hollywood, they never tire, and after all, there is always room for a good con flick hoping to showcase the ultimate bluff.
Gastón Pauls plays the young, slightly more naïve grifter Juan. Although his character is a schemer, you can't help but feel sorry for him, as though he is somehow a victim of his own misbehavior. With every trick comes this apologetic air, and with every ruse a pang of guilt. The chemistry works between Pauls and Ricardo Darín, who plays veteran con man Marcos. While it's clear that Darín is the more seasoned of the two, there is something almost endearing about the fact that he has taken Juan under his wing--or has he? He plays the many facets of his character well: the calculating con man, the brother, the friend. Darín makes it difficult to pin down his character. Another interesting character is Marcos' sister Valeria (played by Leticia Bredice) who works at a posh hotel where the sting is taking place and begrudgingly becomes involved in her brother's plan. Bredice holds her ground in this practically all-male cast and comes across as a really strong woman who eventually, and interestingly, gets her dues.
There is something wickedly enjoyable about a good con movie. Maybe it's the rush of getting a glimpse inside the inner workings of a con artist's world, something normally reserved to street smart delinquents. While Nine Queens may not be the most clever of them all, it certainly has enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes trying to figure out the con before it is revealed to the audience. Writer/director Fabián Bielinsky delivers two characters that swindle people to satisfy different needs but have rudimentary commonalties: Juan is trying to scrape enough money together to get his father out of jail while Marcos is into the game for his own material needs. Even though there is supposed to be this unspoken code of honor amongst thieves, both men constantly doubt each other, wondering if they are being backstabbed by the other (and so will you). Some of the scams seem a bit too implausible, with too many variables that must perfectly align to make them work, but it's enjoyable to watch the scams take shape and be put into effect nonetheless.
Despite some clichéd elements, Nine Queens will have you dissecting every action and every line in hopes of staying ahead of the game.