Original release: May 6th, 2010
Running time: 107 minutes
Country of origin: Argentina
Original language: Spanish
Director: Pablo Trapero
Writers: Alejandro Fadel, Martín Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Martina Gusmán
In the morally grey world we inhabit, I’ve always prided myself on trying to do the right thing; the good thing. I may make poor choices, and I may get things wrong, but trying to do the right thing by other people tends to lessen the impact of those disappointments.
Ironically, I also have a great love of the film noir genre which is full of grizzled and morally corrupt characters that often have little thought for human life and are all about their own personal gains.
Although Carancho is a modern movie and shares few of noir’s stylistic tics. It’s a dark, pessimistic crime thriller about jaded characters trying to do right by other people – and it stars Ricardo Darín, whom I’m a big of, most notably for his roles in Nine Queens (2000) and The Secret in Their Eyes (2009).
Darín plays the disbarred lawyer Sosa who’s now become the eponymous ‘carancho’ or ‘vulture’. Unable to work in his real profession, he spends his time chasing ambulances to close insurance deals with the injured parties that will see the majority of settlements lining the pockets of his bosses. One evening he meets a new young paramedic, Luján (Martina Gusmán) and spark immediately fly.
The two of them have a real chemistry on screen and this means we invest entirely in their faltering relationship. That’s until Luján’s ambulance arrives at the scene of an accident which Sosa and the victim have orchestrated and has gone horribly wrong. The victim, a good friend of Sosa’s, dies and Luján refuses to see Sosa again.
Sosa is a really interesting character who, in the vein of the best noir protagonists, is constantly beaten by thugs and whose past we know little of. Despite his removal from the bar, people seem to trust him as they see he’s a good man despite his surroundings. Ricardo Darín imbues him with a warmth of smile and a twinkle in the eye that belie the grim world that he inhabits.
Luján, on the other hand, is a very hard working paramedic (and then doctor) who has a very strong moral compass when it comes to dealing with people. She acts almost as Sosa’s conscience, trying her hardest to pull him back out of the murky pool he’s slowly drowning in. However, she is not perfect either and has a drug problem which she claims supports her through the difficulties and long hours of being a doctor.
When Luján does finally get through to Sosa after the death of his friend, things take a considerably nasty turn as his old boss turns against him and tries to stop him – by any means necessary – helping a family that were due to be exploited by his former paymasters.
The film takes place mostly at night and in a world in which the only glow seems to come from strip lights or those atop an ambulance. We’re told at the beginning that car accidents in Buenos Aries are on the increase and as such we imagine the caranchos are doing good business, but there’s no glamour evident. These are all back alley deals and although the bone crunching violence is a shock when it happens, it’s hardly out of place when we consider the environment.
Once the violence starts, it escalates to a point beyond which we really imagine the characters being able to come back and so even if Sosa is able to secure the full settlement for the family he’s representing, it doesn’t seem he’ll be able to escape with his life.
Carancho is a fantastic balance of character and plot giving us enough time with the two leads to really care about what happens to them whilst keeping a riveting storyline forever progressing in the background. It’s not perfect though: Luján’s drug addiction does at times feel like it could have been jettisoned without too much consequence and the plot does sag a little in the middle, prior to the steady violent build-up but these are minor quibbles.
What Carancho ultimately gives us is a gritty modern day neo-noir with a couple of great performances. It has a largely gripping storyline and compelling themes about moral responsibility and what it means to attempt to do the right thing in a world that seems to want anything but that.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.