Stripped-back, forceful psycho-thriller.

In the stripped-back, forceful psycho-thriller “The Night Runner,” an Argentinean Faust encounters his Mephistopheles with unexpected results. Maximizing its limited dramatic resources while delivering a pointed critique of capitalism, this is helmer Gerardo Herrero’s best pic to date — and a fine showcase for Spain-based Argentinean thesps Leonardo Sbaraglia and Miguel Angel Sola as yuppie and stalker. Though a reel too long, the March 5 Spanish release should generate offshore interest with its cutting-edge feel and sheer suspense. The fact that Herrero produced this year’s foreign-language film Oscar winner, “The Secrets in Their Eyes,” could give it an extra push.

Edgy, frazzled and ambitious Eduardo Lopez (Sbaraglia) works for a large insurance business and is married, with offspring, to Clara (Erica Rivas). He works off his stress by pounding the sidewalk at night.

On his way back from a failed business meeting in Europe, Eduardo meets Raimundo Conti (Sola), who claims to remember him. Soon, Eduardo is receiving packages containing videos of his own children in the park. When he challenges Conti, the latter says making movies is his hobby, so what’s the problem?

This is just the first of many unwanted appearances by Conti that pepper the pic, which closely follows Hugo Burel’s novel. However, during the final 20 minutes, these start to pall as the script struggles to come up with any new riffs.

Flashbacks — signaled mostly by a change in Eduardo’s haircut — take us back to his younger, more carefree days and to his indiscretions, both sexual and professional, which have now come back to haunt him. Meanwhile, the pressures on Eduardo mount, at work and at home.

Thesps take just the right time over their cat-and-mouse conversations. Sola is compelling as the disturbingly ambiguous Conti, his hushed tones, suaveness and searching maxims (“Morality is an invention of the weak”) all topped off by a strikingly offbeat coif. At first, he’s a pantomime villain, but soon we’re not so sure — even when he’s injecting a lethal air bubble into a victim’s neck.

Sola’s tightrope walk — is Conti a savior or nemesis? Does he, in fact, exist at all? — is fascinating to watch. The lean, overwrought Sbaraglia, as a man personally repelled by but also professionally attracted to Conti’s intrusions and sly half-promises, is easily his match.

Visuals by Alfredo Mayo are gray-hued throughout, underlining the impersonal corporate universe Eduardo inhabits. A beautiful little perf by Vicente Manuel as a jaded ex-cop also deserves mention.

The Night Runner

Spain-Argentina

Production

An Alta Classics (in Spain) release of a Tornasol Films, Castafiore Films (Spain)/Haddock Films, Zona Audiovisual (Argentina) production with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Vanessa Ragone. Executive producers, Maria Besuievsky, Javier Lopez Blanco. Directed by Gerardo Herrero. Screenplay, Nicolas Saad, based on the novel by Hugo Burel.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Alfredo Mayo; editor, Fernando Pardo; music, Lucio Godoy; art directors, Nora Spivak, Federico Garcia Cambero; sound (Dolby Digital), Vicente d'Elia, Eduardo Esquide, Mario Gonzalez. Reviewed at Alta Films screening room, Madrid, Feb. 1, 2010. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Leonardo Sbaraglia, Miguel Angel Sola, Erica Rivas, Marta Lubos, Magela Zanotta, Jorge Sabate, Vicente Manuel, Ricardo Diaz.

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