starring Eduardo Noriega, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Pablo Echarri, Leticia Brédice
screenplay by Marcelo Figueras, Marcelo Piñeyro, based on the novel Plata Quemada by Ricardo Piglia
directed by Marcelo Piñeyro
Criminals Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel (Eduardo Noriega) meet during a gay tryst in a public bathroom, forming a bond that earns them the title "The Twins." Mixing business with pleasure, the two are hired by a collection of underworld thugs determined to pull off one of those fabled big hits that always seem to end in double-crosses and a hail of bullets. Fleeing to Uruguay after a pair (doubling is par for the course in Burnt Money) of policemen are killed during the robbery, Nene and Angel, along with their combustible getaway driver, Cuervo (Pablo Echarri), are forced to stew in a sordid hotel with drugs, their imaginations, and seven million un-spendable Argentine dollars as their only companions.
While it's working, Burnt Money delivers a moody character/caper flick that is Reservoir Dogs by way of Dead Ringers. Its voiceover has Nene rapturously describing, in his best Mickey Spillane, his lover's fingers as smelling of "sawdust, gunpowder, sex, and blood," while another description of Buenos Aires recalls William Blake's thoughts on the suffocating decomposition of London. That feeling of a loss of innocence to the corruption of experience, expressed eloquently in a low-art sort of way, informs the bulk of Burnt Money; the film is far more interested in the poetics of interpersonal dynamics and the slow disintegration of the mind (Angel appears to be low-bore paranoid schizophrenic), after all, than the complications of its crime MacGuffin. Its highlight comes in a cunning series of cuts that fade between fellatio performed at gunpoint with genuflection at the foot of a crucifix, and animal sex with a hooker (Leticia Brédice), with a hypodermic needle's similarly insistent penetration.
When it doesn't work, and Burnt Money doesn't work for its last half-hour, the film loses its poetry in favour of clenched-teeth political grandstanding. Its final orgy of violence is less John Woo-ian heroic bloodshed than a collection of signs and signifiers knocked down as mechanically as the tin monkeys at the film's carnival shooting gallery. Based on a 1965 crime spree that has become legend in Argentine popular culture, Burnt Money is so right for so long it pains me to no end that it undertakes the process of sociology and analysis instead of allowing the same to bloom of its own in the audience's awareness. The picture betrays, in other words, a lack of confidence in its own transparency as metaphor and that, no matter how true the groundwork, leaves a hollow aftertaste. Originally published: April 19, 2002.