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With: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eduardo Noriega, Pablo Echarri, Leticia Brédice
Written by: Marcelo Piñeyro, Marcelo Figueras, based on the novel by Ricardo Piglia
Directed by: Marcelo Piñeyro
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 125
Date: 05/11/2000

Burnt Money (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Caper Town

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At last. After suffering through so many horrible gay movies this year (Adventures of Felix, All Over the Guy, Gypsy Boys, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, Second Skin), I was beginning to feel like I ought to move out of town, buy a truck and a gun rack and go cow tipping. Then finally comes a queer flick that I can proudly endorse. Burnt Money (Plata Quemada) hails from Argentina and is based on a true-life crime story that's legend to the locals. But the actual crime spree is not director Marcelo Piñeyro's actual focus. He's more interested in the criminals' volatile psychoses during the down times.

Nene (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and Angel (Eduardo Noriega) are lovers first and robbers second, though that equation turns around during the course of Burnt Money. Known as "the twins," they're recruited as members of a team for a heist that goes horribly wrong when one member shoots a cop. As a result, the team is forced to flee Buenos Aires for Uruguay, where it hides out for days and days in a sweltering, stuffy apartment waiting for the heat to die down.

A good chunk of the film concentrates on this period, when tempers simmer and erupt as the boredom grows thicker and thicker. What's worse is that Angel is wounded and refuses to lavish any sexual attention on Nene, answering only to the voices in his head. So Nene sneaks out for some fresh air and human contact. He goes to a carnival and meets Giselle (Leticia Brédice) and the two of them strike up an illicit sexual affair. Unfortunately, he forgets the old time criminal rule, "never squawk to a dame."

As they always do in this kind of film, the authorities catch up to the criminals, and Nene and Angel find themselves in a fiery standoff, ripping their shirts off and becoming drenched in blood and sweat.

A few folks have already compared Burnt Money, with its gay lovers-as-criminals, to the Leopold and Loeb case, which spawned three movies here in the U.S. -- Rope (1948), Compulsion (1959) and Swoon (1992). But while Burnt Money is based on a similar case, its roots are more along the lines of the standard-issue American crime movie.

Indeed, director and co-writer Marcelo Piñeyro doesn't bother to reimagine any of the usual crime movie clichés, and this ploy works for him. He simply embraces it and drenches it in vivid colors (reds and blues) and bold passions. He carefully builds unreleased sexual tensions, heat, thickness and boredom to make the movie's otherwise slow-moving centerpiece pulsate. When the Scarface-like shootout comes at the end, it feels less like a gratuitous bloody climax than a pure release.

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