In this intense noir thriller, Argentinean director Pablo Trapero returns to the familiar territory of his 2002 offering, El Bonaerense – a gritty Buenos Aires neighbourhood – and brutally strips naked the ingrained corruption of the police force, hospital staff and personal injury lawyers of the city.
The premise, introduced in a compelling stop-motion sequence of images from a car crash, accompanied by a fiery soundtrack of crunching guitar chords infused with an accordion, explores a shady underworld of lawyers exploiting the 8,000 deaths a year caused by road accidents in Argentina – the “vultures” (los caranchos) making a business from insurance claims. Imagery and tone reminiscent of 2004’s Crash gives the film a punchy start.
This inventive angle provides a macabre backdrop for what is ultimately a doomed love story. A suitably haggard and crew-cut Ricardo Darín plays Sosa, a vulture snooping around hospital wards, accident black-spots and even chapels in search of clients, who takes frequent beatings from both enemies and associates. “It’s not an accident, it’s an incident” is his catchy motto, as he flagrantly exploits Buenos Aires to his heart’s content. Then Luján (Martina Gusman), a young overworked doctor, enters his life, and they embark haphazardly on a flawed romance involving ambiguous legal dealings. And a bit of sex.
Their relationship is unsettlingly real, mainly shot using invasive close-ups of their facial features, as they laugh and cry – and all-too-often bleed – together, and is essential to keeping the piece watchable. Luján guides Sosa through CPR, whilst Sosa teaches her the equally as vital skill of chopping veg.
Shrewdly, Trapero refuses to provide us with a moral anchor in the film – Luján, despite her deep, noble eyes and a passion for her profession, has her failings, and in no way manages to “fix” her lover, or divert him from his murky past. Even Saso’s Mafioso-esque boss, Casal, played exquisitely by José Luis Arias, is impossible to pin down; he is no archetypal villain. A further development of these very human characters, with one or two fewer shootings and shootings-up, would give the piece more poise.
For despite the stark voyeurism provided by all the violence and squeamish details of emergency ward procedures, the repetitive cardiac arrests and punch-ups unfortunately become mundane and sluggish in the film’s second half. This rather formulaic structure culminates in too crass and hyperbolic an ending to evoke any real compassion.