The Delinquents review – slow heist flick is equally funny and frustrating
Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno's three-hour almost-thriller about a bank robbery delights and confounds in equal measure
Twenty years working a dead end job, or three and a half years in prison and more than half a million dollars in cash? This is the choice that jaded bank employee Moran (Daniel Elías) poses to himself in the ambitiously comic half-thriller The Delinquents, from Argentinian director Rodrigo Moreno. I say “half-thriller,” because the movie, which starts as a kind of heist flick, at first purports to be what it is finally not, exchanging a meticulous, 90 minute-long set-up for something more meandering and eventually frustrating.
The question of how we choose to spend our short time on Earth, and what we must do to make it worthwhile, echoes throughout Moreno's slippery, purposefully evasive film, as characters go searching for better ways of existing, conniving their way to disastrous results. Moran knows what he wants, and that is to work as little as possible; he'll rob the sleepy bank where he spends his empty days, stuff the cash, and then suffer through the three and a half year prison sentence he's calculated in advance. Better than twenty years spent rotting in a workplace that looks like it hasn't been updated for thirty years. Right?
Meanwhile, Moran's co-worker, Román (Esteban Bigliard), doesn't know what he wants out of life. It's what leads him to agree to Moran's request that he look after the cash while his co-worker is doing time, in exchange for a cut of the money. What else should he do? And it seems simple enough, in theory. But soon wracked with guilt and made a subject of a growing suspicion by an intrusive investigator, Román panics and the plan, inevitably, begins to spin out of control after he takes an unexpected detour and stumbles upon a mysterious woman, Norma (Margarita Molfin), living in the countryside. Cue the slowest, and eventually saddest, heist movie ever.
180 minutes is a tough ask – and The Delinquents gets the appeal of an epic runtime the wrong way round. For 90 minutes or so (the film is split into two distinct “parts”), it maintains a curious tension to an impressive degree and we wait, fingers clenched, for the Dostoyevskian downfall. But the film essentially switched lanes at the mid-point, taking an unexpected path and showing a weakness for tangents that go on for too long, red herrings, and a flashback structure that breaks the propulsive set up. As the movie slackens, so does our attention, and a restlessness begins to grow not unlike the one that got Moran into this mess in the first place.
That's not to say that there isn't much to admire here. This is admittedly a film of great detail and formal craft, with an interesting, jazz-inspired score by Astor Piazzolla, and a gorgeous look that’s somewhere between Wes Anderson and Éric Rohmer. It's a film that's at its best, and most comfortable, when leaning into slightly surreal black comedy, where even the compositions themselves can prove funny, while showcasing a host of memorable secondary characters and a general sense of the labyrinthine that has marked many an Argentine feature of late.
But The Delinquents simply goes soul-searching in a way that is fundamentally unsatisfying (“Just like life,” one could echo as a defense). The pondering second half is too well observed to call bad, but it does feel like the cinematic equivalent of being offered steak and then given salad. Yes, there are wonderful moments and beautifully contemplative sequences about the true cost of freedom to be found in these late musings; they're just difficult to appreciate when the change of pace feels like such a comedown.
The Delinquents was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch