HEROIC LOSERS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Sebastian Borensztein

Stars: Ricardo Darin, Chino Darin, Louis Brandoni. Daniel Araoz, Carlos Belloso, Rita Cortese, Andres Parra, Ailin Zaninovich, Alejandro Giogena, Guillermo Jacubowicz, Luciano Casauz, Veronica Llinas.

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Argentina’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, this enjoyable comic crime caper is set against the backdrop of the financial crisis that engulfed Argentina in 2001. This crowd pleaser plays out like an Argentinian variation of Ocean’s Eleven.

A small group of townsfolk from the sleepy small town of Villa Alsina gather their resources together to create a collective aimed at buying an old, abandoned agricultural facility and transforming it into a granary to benefit the community and provide jobs. The empty facility seems to typify this dying little town in which opportunities have dried up and most younger people have abandoned the town for the bright lights and excitement of the city.

The collective is the idea of Fermin Perlassi (popular Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin), a former soccer star and local hero. Other investors include Antonio Fontana (Louis Brandoni), a self-declared anarchist who follows the teachings of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin; Rolo Belaúnde (Daniel Araoz), the station master for a station which is now bypassed by the trains; Atanasio Medina (Carlos Belloso), a redneck expert in explosives; Carmen Largio (Rita Cortese), a local businesswoman; and the naive but willing brothers José and Eladio Gómez (Alejandro Giogena and Guillermo Jacubowicz).

But, using their inside knowledge, a corrupt banker named Alvarado (Luciano Cazaux) and a sleazy lawyer named Manzi (Andres Parra), steal their money, just before the financial collapse saw banks restrict the amount of money people could withdraw. This leads to tragedy. When Fermin and his devastated friends learn that Manzi may have stored the money in a specially built vault buried somewhere on a property he owns they set out to recoup the loot.

Their plan is largely inspired by William Wyler’s classic heist film How To Steal A Million, the 1966 comedy caper that starred a suave Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn. The complicated scheme though is often disrupted by setbacks and disagreements on strategy which adds a modicum of suspense to the material. Fermin’s son Rodrigo (played by Darin’s real life son Chino) pretends to be a gardening expert who tends to the flowers in Manzi’s office in order to gain inside intelligence on the elaborate alarm system that protects the vault. He flirts with Manzi’s pretty secretary Florencia (Ailin Zaninovich), who grows suspicious of his obvious lack of a green thumb.

Heroic Losers has been written by Sebastian Borensztein and Eduardo Sacheri (Secret In Their Eyes, etc), upon whose novel The Night Of The Heroic Losers the film is based. This is an underdog story that explores systemic corruption and greed, the failure of politicians to protect their citizens from the consequences of their flawed economic policies and from the rapacious and greedy nature of the rich and powerful who are able to manipulate the system against the impoverished and downtrodden.

Heroic Losers is an ensemble piece. The oddball characters are likable enough, and their naivety provides some laughs along the way. Darin is one of Argentina’s most recognised and popular stars. This is his third collaboration with Borensztein, and he brings plenty of charm and assurance to his performance as the leader of the gang of amateur crooks. This is the first time that Darin and his son have appeared together on screen, and their rapport and familiarity add to the film. Parras is also suitably sleazy as the villain of the piece, and it is likely audiences will delight in seeing him brought down.

Director Borensztein (Chinese Take-Out, etc) keeps things moving along at a fairly jaunty pace, although the film is a little too long for what it has to say and there are some patches in the middle where the pace flags. However, he picks up the pace as the plan reaches its climax. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Pulpeiro, Borensztein’s regular collaborator (Chinese Take-Out, Koblic, etc).

★★★☆

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