The fallout from a hit-and-run is explored with sensitivity and craft in the intriguing minor-key thriller "No Return."

The fallout from a hit-and-run is explored with sensitivity and craft in the intriguing minor-key thriller “No Return.” Built around a carefully worked-out script that touches on larger issues of integrity and justice, pic tells a slyly equivocal tale in a straightforward, stripped-back way that disguises its inner complexities. Notable for searching perfs, pic reps a strong calling card for debut helmer Miguel Cohan, while its impressive pedigree (it shares producers with “The Secret in Their Eyes”) could generate sales interest; B.O. in Argentina has been strong. “No Return” split the Valladolid fest’s top prize with Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy.”

In Buenos Aires, Pablo (Agustin Vasquez) is cycling around one night when he’s nearly run over by ventriloquist Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia). Soon after their altercation, Pablo is struck by a car carrying two teenage buddies, Matias (Martin Slipak) and Chaucha (Felipe Villanueva), and sent to intensive care.

Matias decides to tell the police, his parents (Luis Machin, Ana Celentano) and the insurance adjuster (Arturo Goetz) that the car has been stolen. But almost immediately, his story starts to fall apart. Matias hears Pablo is in coma, and it’s typical of the pic’s ability to probe moral issues that Matias wants him to be both alive and dead. Meanwhile, Pablo’s father (Federico Luppi) starts looking for witnesses, and the TV channels take an interest.

A good kid at heart, Matias breaks down and confesses the truth to his father, who decides to close ranks and protect his son. A neighbor informs the police she saw Federico at the scene, and he’s eventually arrested, provoking another tough choice for Matias.

Script emphasizes the psychological effects of the accident, particularly on Matias and his family. Troublingly but credibly, Matias seems to return to normal pretty quickly once Federico’s under lock and key. The fact that there are no easy villains or heroes (except perhaps the media and the police, seemingly working in tandem to find a culprit), will have auds squirming uncomfortably as they reflect on what they would do in this situation.

Good perfs throughout lay the groundwork for a particularly compelling and richly layered final scene. Sbaraglia (“Intact”), who improves with every film, reins in his histrionic tendencies here, and successfully fuses what are effectively two separate roles — that of the distracted, pre-jail Federico, and the utterly transformed figure who emerges at the end.

Machin delivers a suitably intense turn as Matias’ buttoned-down dad, while Goetz stamps his authority all over the pic, even though he makes only a couple of brief appearances. Indeed, thesping is quietly controlled across the board.

The only false notes in an otherwise accomplished picture are the slightly clunky leaps in time over the final reels, and auds might take some convincing that hit-and-runs are really the hot media item the script suggests (car accidents are also the subject of Argentine helmer Pablo Trapero’s recent but very different film, “Carancho”). Opening brief snatch of rock music is crass, but thankfully not heard again until the final credits.

No Return

Argentina-Spain

Production

A Distribution Co. (in Argentina) release of an Alta Classics release of a Haddock Films, Tornasol Films, Castafiore Films production in association with Telefe, Arena Films. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Produced by Mariela Besuvievsky, Gerardo Herrero, Vanessa Ragone. Directed by Miguel Cohan. Screenplay, Cohan, Ana Cohan.

Crew

Camera (color), Hugo Colace; editor, Fernando Pardo; music, Lucio Godoy; art director, Federico Cambero; costume designer, Roberta Pesci; sound (Dolby Digital), Eduardo Esquide. Reviewed at Alta Films screening room, Madrid, Oct. 19, 2010. (Also in Valladolid Film Festival.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Leonardo Sbaraglia, Martin Slipak, Luis Machin, Federico Luppi, Barbara Goenaga, Ana Celentano, Arturo Goetz, Agustin Vasquez, Felipe Villanueva.

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