Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The director has an aptitude for taking a dash of the familiar and giving it an individual twist."

Director Alonso Ruizpalacios (co-writing here with Manuel Alcalá) cements the impish credentials he showed in his quirky debut feature Güeros with this, by turns, funny and melancholic take on a heist film. It's not simply a smash and grab of familiar ideas, although lovers of Jules Dassin's heist films, in particular, will find enjoyable homage at play (a word that Ruizpalacios's approach frequently calls to mind). The director has an aptitude for taking a dash of the familiar and giving it an individual twist.

The assertion at the start that this "is a replica of the original" is an idea central to the film, which for all of its finely worked genre elements of thriller tension and comedy scripting, also digs away at ideas surrounding the importance - or not - of objects and how they are viewed. In the process it quizzes the very nature of museum 'curation' of artefacts. As one character puts it, "There's no preservation without plunder".

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The film also touches on similar themes to one of the year's other oddball heist movies, American Animals, in that the reasons for the two men at its heart committing robbery are less to do with the loot than with a sense of muddled ennui and toxic masculinity - doing it for the thrill without considering the consequences.

The men in question are ageing and failing student Juan (Gael García Bernal, game enough to allow a string of jokes about his character's height) and his pal Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris). Juan's extended middle-class family treat him as little more than an occasionally lovable loser while Wilson is largely a sheep to Juan's wolf, although the fact that his character provides a 'retrospective voiceover' hints at more. Set over Christmas, Ruizpalacios takes time to set up Juan's spoiled self-centredness before we watch him corral Wilson into joining him to rob a trove of Mayan treasures from the National Museum of Anthropology.

The heist itself is beautifully shot by Damían García, with much of it playing out in tense 'snapshots' as the pair bodge their way through the theft. There's also good use made of reflections - something its central character could personally do with a lot more of. The atmosphere is enhanced by Tomás Barreiro's endlessly inventive score - that among other things reworks elements of Silvestre Revueltas' music from Night Of the Mayas, which is repeatedly referenced in the film.

This is far from the end of the story, as the action then adopts a semi-road trip structure as Juan finds himself with bags of scorching hot property, a friend with cold feet and only the flimsiest of plans.

Ruizpalacios is relentless, flinging his characters into a series of scrapes, including notable cameos from Simon Russell Beale as a less than scrupulous art dealer and Leticia Brédice as an ageing exotic dancer. Beneath the laughs, though, there is a serious anthropological study at work - both in the microcosm of Juan's world and in the bigger picture of Mexico as a whole and its attitude to its own heritage. Ruizpalacios' greatest achievement is his lightness of touch, which holds important ideas up to the light without damaging them.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2018
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Two students break into the national museum in Mexico City and escape with precious artefacts. A road movie.

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Writer: Manuel Alcalá, Alonso Ruizpalacios

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro, Simon Russell Beale, Bernardo Velasco

Year: 2018

Runtime: 128 minutes

Country: Mexico

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If you like this, try:

American Animals