Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo makes an intriguing debut with "Intacto," a weird neo-noir thriller in which luck is traded, stolen and used as a gambling chit by a dark ring of psychic bootleggers.
Leonardo Sbaraglia stars as Tomas Sanz, a young man who is the only survivor of a plane crash. That's the good news. The bad news is that he happens to have stolen a lot of money -- he was on his way to start a new life with the booty -- so when he comes to in the hospital he is under the watchful eye of a savvy detective named Sara (Monica Lopez). Sara herself is a survivor: She walked away from a car crash that killed her husband and daughter.
The two embark on an increasingly twisting cat-and-mouse game, overseen and manipulated by a shady character named Federico (Eusebio Poncela), who was once as lucky as they are but whose good fortune was appropriated by his mentor, a casino owner named Sam (Max von Sydow) who is known as the God of Good Luck. With Tomas as his protege, Federico plots his revenge on Sam, who conducts regular games of Russian roulette in his redoubt in the Canary Islands.
With its themes of fate, the exhilaration of surviving close brushes with death and the guilt that such survival engenders, "Intacto" is reminiscent of Peter Weir's terrific and overlooked 1993 movie "Fearless." In that film Jeff Bridges starred as the survivor of a plane crash who processed his trauma by acquiring both a messiah complex and a slow-burning death wish. Although "Intacto" is much more stylized and ponderous, it's actually not as deep as its predecessor. Fresnadillo, who was inspired to write "Intacto" years after the collision of two 747s at the airport of his native Canary Islands, chooses instead to use the fate and redemption as foils for elaborately choreographed violence and male initiation rituals (in this movie even the women are called "gentlemen").
The tight, hermetic world that Fresnadillo creates, and the bizarre machinations of Tomas's journey through the karmic underworld, make for a movie that is consistently absorbing -- thanks in large part to strong performances from the actors -- but not particularly rewarding. It's to be hoped that Fresnadillo, having gotten his boyhood experience out of his system, will marshal his impressive gifts to create stories of considerably less preposterous and insular appeal.
Intacto (108 minutes, in Spanish with subtitles, at the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle) is rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity.