Heist films – I’m thinking of Topkapi, of course, but there are plenty of others – tend to spend a lot of time detailing the baroque, Mouse Trap-like plans their jewel-robbing protagonists must negotiate in order to get their (metaphorical) paws on the (metaphorical) cheese. There are usually armed guards, alarms and laser beams to be avoided before the heist is successfully completed; nerves of steel, physical dexterity, courage and skill will all be required to prize open the display case and make a clean escape with the loot.
In El Angel (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, Nov. 16), no such theatrics are necessary: the film’s titular character glides through jewelry stores, empty mansions, and life itself largely undisturbed and unconcerned. The police don’t even put in an appearance until after the film has passed the one-hour mark — and when they do, he easily slips from their grasp.
El Angel is Carlos (Lorenzo Ferro), a Buenos Aires schoolboy who spends his spare time doing what he loves best: walking into unlocked houses, making himself at home, and stealing whatever he sees that takes his fancy. The only child of risk-averse, middle-class parents, Carlos has no need to steal – he just enjoys it tremendously.
An unusual confrontation with older student Ramón (Chino Darin) marks the beginning of a new friendship and a darker turn for Carlos, whose subsequent introduction to Ramón’s professional criminal father José (Daniel Fanego) leads to a quick lesson in firing a gun. The young ne’er-do-well takes to the task with relish, and is eager to put his new skill to the test as soon as possible.
Though José is a heroin addict and burglar, a lifetime of experience has taught him to avoid unnecessary risks; Ramón, meanwhile, is happy to engage in a little petty thievery while pursuing his dream of becoming a professional singer and television celebrity. In sharp contrast, Carlos is an inveterate liar with absolutely no plans for the future – a child strictly interested in experiencing immediate satisfaction.
A baby-faced sociopath with an angelic crown of curly brown hair, Carlos is, in short, the embodiment of everything wrong with our sensation and celebrity-driven age. He’s an id-man who kills without compunction and evinces absolutely no concern for anyone else, including his parents (though his love for them seems genuine enough). He’s also polite, charming, and attractive: in another film a successful politician, perhaps.
One of the better crime films of recent vintage, El Angel concludes in like fashion to this year’s exemplary Brazilian fantasy Good Company, with an army of police and soldiers closing in on its prey. Carlos, of course, worries not: whatever fate awaits him, he’ll meet it with a song in his heart, a spring in his step, and bullets in his gun.
Footnote: El Angel includes one unique, four-second close-up of male genitalia that may offend – and will certainly surprise – many viewers. While I wouldn’t call the shot gratuitous, it is unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Be prepared.