In spite of a commendably nasty noir mentality a la The Postman Always Rings Twice, Carancho is flat-out underwhelming. Set in contemporary Argentina, Carancho is mostly as lousy as it is because its creators are not sure how to best exploit their plot’s novel main hook: how shady lawyers have created a thriving business in Argentina—specifically Buenos Aires—from chasing ambulances and helping victims recoup money from their health insurance companies.
Being as toothlessly brusque as it is, Carancho often feels like a heap of indistinct clichés. Ricardo Darín plays Sosa, a disbarred lawyer that is determined to leave his day job taking under the table payouts from crash victims as soon as he can get his license back. That simple plan changes as soon as he meets Luján (Martina Gusman), an ambulance driver that he soon develops a relationship with.
The problem Sosa and Luján immediately encounter is that Sosa’s colleagues refuse to let him just up and leave their dirty business since he’d be leaving them during a crucial moment for their thriving company, not to mention that Sosa just knows too much about what their more illegal practices. These guys can ostensibly afford to puff out their chests and make ludicrous threats to Sosa because, as one of them rabidly barks, they apparently run everything in Bueno Aires and, by extension, the country. Which naturally means Luján is in danger too since, according to the rules of Formula Storytelling 101, she’s the one way Sosa’s ex-partners can hurt him. Compounded with the fact that Sosa’s last job leads him to perform a personal favor for a friend that winds up blowing up in both of their faces, Sosa’s pretty much screwed. Oh, and Luján’s got a dark secret that is only teasingly shown in three scenes or so and is never fully taken advantage of, mostly because she’s nothing more than a supporting character that never escapes from Sosa’s shadow.
The biggest thing holding Carancho back from being everything it should be is the lack of visible sparks between Gusman and Darín. This chemical imbalance may be because director Pablo Trapero isn’t much of an actor’s director, but it could just be because the two actors just don’t work as well with together as the material needs them too. I suspect it’s a little bit of both, mostly because of an elevator scene where the two are holding each other tenderly and waiting for the other bloody shoe to drop. This scene mostly doesn’t work because neither Darín nor Gusman is really reacting to each other. They look like a pair of talented actors acting, and that’s deadly when so much of the film’s surrounding ruthlessness relies on our ability to suspend our disbelief and invest in Lujan and Sosa’s desperate love affair.
But even if Darín and Gusman did make a convincing couple, you still wouldn’t be able to buy into Carancho’s barely fleshed-out setting. Trapero and his three other co-writers, spend most of the film’s runtime condescending to their characters by distancing themselves from the grimy substance of the film’s world. Trapero and his colleagues never really get their hands dirty by investing more than cursory details into the sleazy, doomed undertones that define the central romance between the film’s two main protagonists, an ambulance technician and an ambulance chaser. Lecherous, concussed crash victims, typewriter bludgeoning, and an unexpected use of a sledgehammer are all well and good, but they just don’t add much value to the film beyond unconvincing window dressing. Trapero’s neo-noir just isn’t skuzzy enough to be quaintly depraved and not original enough to actually stand on its own two feet as a romantic thriller.