Director: Pablo Trapero
Writers: Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero
Cinematographer: Julián Apezteguia
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Martina Gusman, Carlos Weber, José Luis Arias
Studio/Runtime: Strand Releasing/107 min.
The titular vultures of Carancho are the ambulance-chasing lawyers who fleece personal injuries victims out of their money. They also, we soon learn, set up many of those injuries themselves, and this problem is something of an epidemic in Argentina—at least according to the films opening titles, which explain that the country has over 8,000 traffic deaths a year. Sosa (Ricardo Darín) has been working for a personal injury attorney ever since he lost his license, but he’s about to get it back and wants to return to practicing law ethically. Before it comes to that, though, he meets Luján, a doctor working as a paramedic, and the two fall in love. But Sosa knows too much about this insurance fraud scam, and his old boss isn’t above attacking Sosa wherever it hurts most to keep him from ratting on the operation.
In Carancho the hospital is overworked and the doctors are exhausted. Not only are the lawyers and their clients corrupt, but of course so are the police officers and doctors (and it’s implicit that the actual insurance agencies are at least as bad). Darín’s performance in particular helps the film out with its tone of dark realism, presenting a hero who’s interested in doing the right thing but left with a world so bleak that attempting to do so is virtually suicide.
It’s a noir-ish plot and director Pablo Trapero makes the most of it, drawing out great performances and coupling them with beautiful camerwork. Some of the actual writing for the film is clumsy, and dialogue can be painfully expository at times, but Trapero’s tight control of the camera manages to play these problems off and soon enough the characters and their increasingly impossible predicaments are driving the story on their own. While many of the film’s foundations will be familiar to any fans of crime television shows, the craft at work here is strong enough to make overlooking these shortcomings easy.
Keeping Carancho from true greatness, though, is an ending that’s as ham-fisted as anything that’s been filmed and manages to undercut pretty much everything that came before it. Suddenly the picture becomes obnoxiously didactic and reduces its characters to just toys for its screenwriters.While the sequence is undeniably virtuosic from a technical standpoint, it’s a disaster in every other way. I’ve rarely seen a movie with an ending this bad in my entire life.
For 95% of the film, Carancho is a taut noir drama with interesting social criticism and well-rounded characters. Then, for 5% it’s a complete mess that loses the reality the rest of the film is set in. This mixture is still worth watching, especially since without everything that came before it the end of the movie wouldn’t make a bad short on its own. But it hampers Carancho enough that it’s hard not to reappraise the rest of the film in light of it—all those sutures that Trapero and Darín put into its plot seem to come right out and the clumsiness of the writing reasserts itself. So the movie’s recommendation has to come with a grain of salt, but most of Carancho is still intelligent and thrilling enough that it’s work ignoring the end.