Nine Queens, an Argentine film from 2000, has to be one of the great con movies...intricate, funny, difficult to see where it's going, and satisfying. Juan (Gaston Pauls), a young, naive-looking con artist, tries to play a bill-changing scam twice at a convenience store and gets caught. A smooth-looking older guy, Marcos (Ricardo Darrin), who was watching, suddenly steps forward, says he's a cop and hustles Juan out the door. But it turns out Marcos is a con artist, too; a lot more experienced, it seems, who is looking for a partner. He's willing to show Juan the ropes. When Marcos and Juan walk down a busy street, Marcos points out all the hustles. The scammers are all around them.
"They're there," he says to Juan, "but you can't see them. That's what it's all about. They're there, but they aren't. So mind your briefcase, your door, your window, your car, your savings. Mind your rear. Because they're there and they'll always be."
"Thieves," says Juan.
"No...that's what everybody calls them. They are spitters, breakers, skin workers, blind fronts, hoisters, hooks, stalls, petermen, night raiders, mustard chuckers, fences, operators, swindlers. I'm hungry. Let's go to my office and get a meal."
And they step into a near-by bar where Marcos owes money.
Marcos has conned and cheated everyone who has ever dealt with him, including former partners, his sister and his younger brother. Now he comes across what will be the biggest con of his career. It involves the nine queens, a sheet of stamps from the Weimar Republic, defective, rare and extremely valuable. Marcos and Juan need a set of forged stamps, which they can get, and the real stamps, which they can get but only for a high price. They will give the mark, a shrewd crook of a wealthy businessman who collects stamps and is being deported the next day, no time to thoroughly check the goods when the money-for-stamps deal is exchanged. Marcos' sister and Juan will prove instrumental in the deal.
I had to watch the movie twice. First, to really follow the intricate plot. Second, to fully appreciate that Fabian Bielinsky, the director/writer, wasn't hiding any cards. If you know what to look for, you just might figure out the movie. (I didn’t.) Marcos' lecture to Juan about all those scammers has a point that you'll look back on with a smile. Third, to find out some things, you need to pay close attention to the little details. An off-hand remark or bit of background history later becomes important to a piece of action. Why this movie is so good is that the first time you watch it you're taken off guard by the scams within scams. But the second time, it's sheer pleasure to watch how the real scams are being set up.
The actors do a fine job. Pauls brings innocence, likeability and shrewdness to the role. Darrin can be charming, but he also makes his character a man you'd trust only if you had no alternative.
If you like puzzles, you'll probably like this movie. There are cons within cons, scams and slights of hand. You might find the final con a stretch, but it's so satisfying.