“Money has the power to possess people to the core.”
In the Spanish con film Swindled (AKA Incautos), Ernesto (Ernesto Alterio) starts his adult life as a petty criminal and then moves onto bigger things when he becomes part of a slick con team. In a series of flashbacks, Ernesto tells his story of exactly how and why he learned to never trust anyone. Brought up by the priests of the Blessed Lady of the Abandoned Orphanage, Ernesto learns to con the priests by saintly behaviour, and he also becomes bonded to another tough orphan–‘the Gypsy’ Gitano (Alejandro Casacseca). The two boys become inseparable, and as adults they lead a life of petty crime until Gitano is caught and sent to jail. Ernesto is then absorbed in the world of practiced con artists and becomes the protege of the elderly con man Lefty.
Eventually Ernesto and Lefty become part of a con team with the slick Federico (Federico Luppi) and his swindling, slippery ex-lover Pilar (Victoria Abril)–the wife of a wealthy old man who’s on his deathbed. Pilar dreams up a scheme that will yield millions to the con team, and it’s a “Golden Goose”–a scam with a greedy target who has loads of cash.
Swindled is at its strongest for the first half of the film, and for a while there, it seemed as though Swindled would match that great con film Nine Queens. Swindled is amusing, stylish and slick as it runs through Ernesto’s con artist past, and Ernesto’s flashbacks serve to give the viewer an overview of some standard scams. This is all great fun, but then the film settles down for the con involving Pilar and Federico. The cons con each other back and forth several times, and the plot’s complications only serve up confusion. At this point, the film becomes so confusing, it’s murky–yes, there’s a con, but it’s impossible to decipher who is doing what to whom, and at the end of the film you find yourself sitting there trying to unravel just what was real and what was the con part, and this detracts from the enjoyment. Directed by Miguel Bardem (brother of Javier), the film is in Spanish with English subtitles.