Chasing ambulances, at a great cost
4/20/2011According to the title card that opens the Argentine thriller Carancho, an average of 22 people die each day in automobile accidents, while another 120,000 are injured. The country’s poor driving record (what kind of test, the movie makes you wonder, does one have to pass there to obtain a license?) has resulted in a booming personal-injury industry so corrupt it makes its U.S. counterpart seem like Red Cross workers.One of those ambulance chasers, Sosa (Ricardo Darin), was a lawyer until his license was revoked and now works for a so-called “foundation,” actually a shady firm for which he solicits clients at accident sites and in emergency rooms, encouraging them to call his bosses for representation. Sosa’s only rule is that he never participates in malpractice suits: He targets only insurance companies, then splits their fat payouts with his company, the police and judges. The victims only get a sliver of the money they are awarded, but most are too poor and uneducated to realize they are being played. Carancho, Spanish slang for vulture or buzzard, refers to Sosa’s increasingly heavy guilt. He’s growing weary of exploiting the pain and suffering of innocents, and he’s eager to regain his license so he can start practicing again. But he’s still willing to break the law in order to help friends, such as a destitute pal whose leg he smashes with a sledgehammer so the man can collect disability. At the scene of an accident, Sosa meets Lujan (Martina Gusman), a beautiful young EMT medic trying to log enough hours to be hired on by a hospital full-time. The two embark on a tentative romance, although each harbors a secret: Lujan doesn’t know the extent of Sosa’s illegal tactics, and Sosa has no idea of Lujan’s drug addiction, which she hides by injecting herself in her feet.Director Pablo Trapero ( Lion’s Den), like so many contemporary Argentine filmmakers, reserves the bulk of his wrath for a country whose authorities and judicial systems have been so grossly corrupt there appears to be no way of correcting them. The scenes involving Lujan’s tending to patients have a dynamic realism that seems to have been drawn from actual events, such as the one that focuses on a pair of battered men who wake up in an emergency room, having put each other there in a nasty brawl, and pick up where they left off. Neither Sosa nor Lujan is an angel (Darin, best known to U.S. audiences from last year’s Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes, excels at portraying men with restless consciences), but they are practically saints compared to the rampant chicanery surrounding them. When they decide to try to clean up their lives and make a fresh start, you root for them. But Trapero refuses to make things easy, and after a brief third-act patch in which the plot briefly bogs down with exposition, Carancho begins to accelerate with alarming speed — and doesn’t stop until the startling, bitterly ironic final frame.
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Martina Gusman, Carlos Weber, Jose Luis Arias.
Director: Pablo Trapero.
Screenwriters: Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero.
Producer: Pablo Trapero.
A Strand Releasing studios release. Running time: 107 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, brief violence, gore, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.