Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and a scene of Sexuality/Nudity
(Spanish with English subtitles)
Directed by: Pablo Trapero
Written by: Pablo Trapero
Starring: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich, Gaston Cocchiarale, Giselle Motta & Franco Masini
THE CLAN is a fascinating true-crime thriller for many reasons. The biggest one being the even-handed skill with which director/writer Pablo Trapero executes this dark story. The film is well made on all technical fronts with beautiful cinematography, an upbeat soundtrack that distinctly reminded me of Scorsese’s masterful uses of various older hits, and all-around great acting. Though the film may not be perfect (more on the flaws that hold it back in a moment), THE CLAN should please fans of true-crime and the darker side of history.
1980’s Buenos Ares, Argentina. The Puccios seems like a picture perfect loving family. They run a small deli and son Alejandro is a star rugby player. However, selling sandwiches isn’t quite paying the bills, so patriarch Arquimedes decides to take part in some violent kidnappings, with the aid of Alejandro and a few other members of the Puccio family. When kidnapping quickly turns into kidnapping and murder, Alejandro is faced with a number of difficult decisions regarding whether he wants to follow in his sadistic father’s footsteps or form a peaceful life for himself. Years will pass, more kidnappings will occur, and a noose begins to slowly tighten around the paranoid Arquimedes’ neck.
I wasn’t familiar with the story of the Puccio clan before going into this movie. It should be noted that director/writer Pablo Trapero actually managed to get help from relatives of the victims, so it appears that there was at least a strong attempt to keep to the facts in this cinematic retelling of a brutal true story. THE CLAN doesn’t go out of its way to sensationalize the crimes or exploit them through on-screen gruesome violence. Still, the film manages to tell its depressingly grim tale with some stylistic flair. Trapero has previously received attention for the original SECRET IN THEIR EYES and it’s easy to see why that is when you quickly notice the little touches that he throws into this film.
Trapero utilizes many impressive long takes, in which every small detail and background performer had to be spot on in their delivery. I couldn’t help but be entranced by the technical prowess in these moments. There is also a very Scorsese-esque use of upbeat 80’s songs that contrast heavily with the on-screen darkness. This well-placed soundtrack helps add an “everyday” sort of feeling to the proceedings, which is further built upon by masterful editing. In two separate sequences, scenes of wailing victims are interspersed with Alejandro’s rugby practice and an explicit bit of love-making. The effect of these moments is appropriately chilling to say the least.
The performances are all phenomenal! Guillermo Francella plays Arquimedes as a scary old man who seems innocent and nearly frail on the outside, but has a sadistic streak that we see come out in quiet moments. Offering a bit of balance to the proceedings is Peter Lanzani as Alejandro. Even against my better knowledge, this screenplay and Lanzani’s performance made me garner a bit of sympathy towards (this cinematic version of) Alejandro. The tense character dynamic between Alejandro and Arquimedes creates a lot of suspense in their casual conversations and arguments, with a confrontation in a sports shop being a key highlight.
On the supporting side of things, the rest of the Puccio clan seem underdeveloped. The performances still receive enough screen time to give the viewer a good sense of the characters’ attributes, what they bring to these crimes (if they are participants at all), and how their familial role fits into the titular clan. Also on the sidelines is Stefania Koessi as Monica, Alejandro’s love interest. Though her presence is meant to show a bit more of the reluctant son’s humanity, she feels like an afterthought, but that’s no fault of Koessi’s convincing performance. These performances were so good that I wanted to see more of them on the screen, but the only way that would happen would be with a much-welcomed longer running time.
THE CLAN’s pacing kicks off somewhat shakily as we jump through a non-linear narrative and two kidnappings within the first 30 minutes, but the film begins to slow things down and steadily builds suspense as we see Argentina’s shifting political climate directly affect the Puccio’s seemingly perfect operation. Equally intense to watch are the realizations from the younger siblings as they begin to sense there may be something wrong with their father’s secret business in the locked basement. Though the first act feels a bit disjointed, the rest of the film maintains a dark atmosphere of dread. There were multiple times in the third act where I was surprised, partially from not knowing how the actual events played out and mostly from seeing characters evolve drastically in a short period of time.
If you’re looking for a well-made true crime thriller that doesn’t necessarily sensationalize its subject matter, yet still manages to execute the tense material with style, then THE CLAN should be right up your alley. The performances are great, even if some central characters receive noticeably more screen time than others. The film is impressively shot and includes a killer soundtrack that adds a sense of normalcy to the dark proceedings. I also felt sympathy for someone who, in a likelihood, I should have despised. Though it has a few noticeable flaws, THE CLAN comes highly recommended if you want to delve into a grim story ripped from another country’s headlines.