If Pablo Trapero's "Carancho" is to be believed, and it is not a film without conviction, then Argentina is the car crash capital of the world. If not, it's fair to worry about certain drivers being behind the wheel -- 8000 Argentinians per year lose their life to an auto accident, so says the brief title cards in "Carancho," a stat that introduces us to the catalyst of what goes on in this film.
Thankfully, Don Cheadle doesn't show up to explain what this means, and James Spader doesn't start making love to leg wounds. Instead, we meet Ricardo Darin's Sosa, who in early scenes is literally chasing ambulances, a cutthroat independent lawyer of meager resources who finds victims with no insurance and offers his shady representation. Darin, a popular Spanish language actor last seen in Juan José Campanella's Oscar-winning "The Secret In Their Eyes," here has stubble to match his short haircut and deadened eyes. He's sexy like a bullet, clothed in an artificial darkness but desperately single-minded.
Doing his rounds, he ends up meeting Lujan, an overworked ambulance worker who finds herself consistently doing clean-up work on the grisliest of local accidents, coping by developing a drug dependency and going home alone with regularity. As played by Martina Guzman, she has that mixture of exhaustion and the hint of emotional wounds that proves alluring to anyone, so it's not a surprise that Sosa, deeply buried within the immorality of his situation, would be able to peek out and become immediately attracted.
From this point, it becomes a push and pull. Sosa, finding salvation in Lujan's arms, wants to leave his profession for good. However, he's going to need a huge hunk of change to be able to walk away, and if there aren't enough car accidents, he's not going to do better than meet quotas. Hence, his self-destruction becomes her self-destruction, as he realizes that while he's in love with Lujan, their relationship could be beneficial. Of course, indulging their own bad behaviors just to "get away" isn't going to be easy.
"Carancho" takes a bit too many inorganic twists and turns to be anything more than an upscale B-picture. The film remains tense as obstacles pile up, but we're not invested in the heated bedroom interactions of Sosa and Lujan, or the select moments of clothed intimacy, as much as what terrible event will occur next. Trapero's got the steady hand of someone whose been doing this for awhile, however, and he's able to get superb character work from Darin and Guzman, and the two make a plausible doomed couple.
Like "The Secret In Their Eyes," Trapero also employs an audacious single-shot third-act sequence that turns the film from a tense thriller to nearly an action movie. Not a miscalculation, it nonetheless might be so gripping and ultimately sobering that it's probably the first and last thing you'll take away from "Carancho." Not to say that the pleasures aren't numerous in the film, but rather that it's the ironic tragedy that sticks with you more than the central relationship. [B]