×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Heroic Losers’

In Sebastian Borensztein's crowd-pleasing heist comedy, rural Argentinians conspire to steal back from the elites who robbed them.

Director:
Sebastian Borensztein
With:
Ricardo Darín, Luis Brandoni, Chino Darín, Verónica Llinás, Daniel Aráoz, Carlos Belloso, Rita Cortese, Andrés Parra. (Spanish dialogue)

Running time: 117 MIN.

“We’re not thieves,” insists the ringleader of a heist in “Heroic Losers,” a South American crowd-pleaser about a rural collective seeking justice against big-city banking elites. He may be wrong in the most literal sense, but like an Argentinean Danny Ocean, he’s assembled a group of amateurs who have no intention of filling their coffers with ill-gotten gains — they just want their money back. Adding to a tradition of modest heist comedies like “Going in Style” and “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” director Sebastian Borensztein has turned Argentina’s devastating early-2000s financial crisis into the sort of generous, cathartic entertainment that his characters might enjoy. That populist touch has put it on track to be the year’s biggest box-office hit in its home country, and other territories will surely pounce after its international premiere in Toronto. 

Anchoring this motley ensemble is Ricardo Darín, the durable star of Borensztein’s previous two films, “Chinese Take-Out” and “Kóblic,” though international audiences will likely remember him from “Nine Queens,” which also placed him at the center of a con. Darín’s quiet self-assurance — if this were “Ocean’s 11,” he’d definitely be the George Clooney of the bunch — sells this unlikely scheme to both the lawful, working-class types he leads into trouble and the audience, which might need some convincing, too. He got them into this mess, after all, and he’s the one responsible for getting them out of it.

Set in August 2001, right before Argentina’s Great Depression was about to plunge to its deepest ebb, “Heroic Losers” begins with a dream engineered by Fermín (Darín), a retired soccer hero, who wants to bring prosperity to his struggling hometown in the Buenos Aires province. He and his wife (Verónica Llinás) have the vision to convert a long-abandoned factory into a granary that could employ 50 people or more, but they lack the capital to do it. To secure a bank loan, they pool small cash investments from various down-on-their-luck friends — some unemployed, others scraping by on low-paying jobs or government subsidies — who want to go into business together. 

Fermín succeeds in getting the money he needs, but an unscrupulous banker talks him into opening up an account rather than tucking it away in a safe deposit box, knowing full well that the banks are about to put a freeze on withdrawals. Before that happens, a slick lawyer named Manzi (Andrés Parra) makes a run on the bank and stores that cash (and much more) in a heavily secured underground bank vault in the sticks. When Fermín and company learn of its whereabouts, they make plans to raid the vault, which is secured by a multi-tiered alarm system that they’ll need luck, savvy and a little dynamite to get past. 

At close to a full two hours, “Heroic Losers” takes too much time in the wind-up without the emotional payoffs Borensztein labors so hard to get. A personal tragedy that follows the banking scam is intended to bolster Fermín’s triumph-of-the-underdog bonafides, but it adds only empty sentimentality. Worse still is a corny romantic-comedy subplot involving Fermín’s son (played by Darín’s real-life son, Chino), who haplessly pretends to be a gardener to get close to Manzi, but instead falls for his pretty assistant. The rest of the team surrounding Fermín is a ragtag group of old friends and lovable misfits, all there to offer emotional support or mild comic relief. 

The film improves, however, when the gang comes together for a robbery inspired by the Peter O’Toole/Audrey Hepburn team-up “How to Steal a Million,” which turns the heist into a cat-and-mouse game that adds a note of comical exasperation to Manzi’s comeuppance. But what really gives “Heroic Losers” a boost is its expression of national character, the way it attaches itself to this rousing fantasy to score one for the downtrodden. The novelist Eduardo Sacheri, who co-scripted with Borensztein, also wrote the source material for “The Secret in Their Eyes,” another international hit starring Darín. They both have a sense of Argentina as a country that serves the powerful, rife with dark secrets and conspiracies. “Heroic Losers” takes sweet revenge, if only for a moment. 

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Heroic Losers'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 6, 2019. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 117 MIN. (Original title: “La odisea de los giles”)

Production: (Argentina) A K&S Films, Mod, Kenya Films production. (Int'l sales: Film Factory, Barcelona.) Producers: Hugo Sigman, Ricardo Darín, Matias Mosteirin, Chino Darín, Federico Posternak, Leticia Cristi, Fernando Bovaira, Simón de Santiago. Executive producers: Micky Buyé, Javier Braier.

Crew: Director: Sebastian Borensztein. Screenplay: Borensztein, Eduardo Sacheri, based on the novel "The Night of the Heroic Losers" by Sacheri. Camera (color, HD): Rodrigo Pulpeiro. Editor: Alejandro Carrillo Penovi. Music: Federico Jusid.

With: Ricardo Darín, Luis Brandoni, Chino Darín, Verónica Llinás, Daniel Aráoz, Carlos Belloso, Rita Cortese, Andrés Parra. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • Media Company Formed Through Merger Given

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Takes the Name Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film has been given the name Leonine, it was revealed Friday. Fred Kogel, CEO of Leonine, said: “When choosing the new brand as our company name, the following aspects were decisive for us: it [...]

  • Scattered Night

    San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

    After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection. An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own [...]

  • Johnnie To Quits Taiwan Golden Horse

    Johnnie To Quits Golden Horse Awards as China Builds Pressure

    Leading Hong Kong film maker Johnnie To has dropped out of the Golden Horse Awards, where he was set to be president of the jury deciding the prize winners. The awards, which take place and are organized from Taiwan, have long been considered the most prestigious prized in Chinese-language cinema. However they are currently under [...]

  • Zeroville

    Film Review: 'Zeroville'

    I’m tired of hearing how some novels are “impossible to adapt.” Balderdash! Just because some books don’t lend themselves to being translated from page to screen doesn’t mean that the attempt ought not to be made. Just ask James Franco, who’s shown a speed freak’s determination to tackle some of the unlikeliest literary adaptations of [...]

  • Red Penguins review

    Toronto Film Review: 'Red Penguins'

    “Red Penguins” is a cautionary tale with particular resonance in the context of our current bizarre intertwining with Russia, the country that interfered in the last U.S. presidential election and is led by the POTUS’ apparent BFF. This wild tale of attempted transnational commerce just after the demise of the USSR in the 1990s chronicles [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content