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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: February 8, 2011 08:07 AM

In Spanish, Carancho means buzzard or vulture -- a carrion-eater that hovers around the dead and dying.

And so it is with Carancho's central character, Sosa (the always amazing Ricardo Darin), a disbarred lawyer who now works for a company in Buenos Aires, which preys on the victims of traffic accidents. They offer to represent the indigent in claims involving death and disability, then routinely collect many times more money than they actually disburse to their clients.

It's a greasy business and a lucrative one, because Argentina seems to be full of reckless drivers who crash into each other in staggering numbers. Still, Sosa is an unhappy participant. His boss regularly has to send a muscular henchman known as The Dog to rough Sosa up for letting his conscience or morals get in the way of a profit.

Sosa is close to a tipping point -- and reaches it when he meets Lujan (Martina Gusman), a young doctor who rides the ambulances that respond to the accident calls. She keeps bumping into Sosa, who is drawn to her. But she refuses to see him after an effort at fraud that he unexpectedly involves her in -- involving a faked accident that goes horribly wrong -- results in a death.

But another accident brings them together. This time, Sosa has a grander scheme in mind: He'll screw his old boss, get a solid payout for the clients -- and use his share to quit and leave and take Lujan with him.

Lujan, at first reluctant, signs on for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she begins to understand just how corrupt the system is, a rot that extends to the hospital where she works. For another, she has issues of her own: specifically, a pain-killer addiction that she feeds with her own prescription pad.

Fast, sleek and told with raw nerves exposed, Carancho dives into a seamy demimonde of scams and illegality sanctioned by an establishment where everyone seems to be on the take. Director Pablo Trapero, working from a script by a quartet of writers, keeps things edgy and abrupt, jumping from scene to scene breathlessly without resorting to any sort of thriller tropes, while creating a sense of impending danger.

He has two terrific leads in Darin and Gusman. Gusman has the wide-eyed beauty of a Rosario Dawson, but with a world-weary brittleness. Darin, so good in Nine Queens, The Aura and the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes, has a wolfish quality, a hunger and aggression that is tempered by an innate decency and vulnerability.

Carancho has a headlong feel. It's gripping and involving while focusing squarely on one man's ability to ignore his own better instincts -- and what happens when he no longer can.

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