They say Samuel (Max von Sydow) is a “god of chance”. He survived the concentration camps as a child while millions of his fellow Jews died, and since his luck hasn’t run out. You gather that he’s such a foolproof gambler that he now owns the casino! Apparently that isn’t enough and he feels the need to find other exceptionally lucky souls and play Russian roulette with them. Samuel’s got this notion that one can control his luck and suck up others’, a notion he’s shared with his protégé Federico (Eusebio Poncela), whom he found after he survived an earthquake. As the film begins, though, the two have a falling out and Federico leaves his mentor, but not before Samuel “jinxes” him. Cut to seven years later with Federico finding a protégé of his own in Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the sole survivor of a plane crash, and training him until he’s ready to take on Samuel. They’ll also have to watch out for Sara (Mónica López), a police detective chasing Tomás, who happens to be a bank robber…
“Intacto” is the first feature of Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who displays skill behind the camera even though his film doesn’t live up to the potential of its premise. The idea of a subculture of gifted individuals and extreme gamblers is intriguing, sort of like Unbreakable by the way of a David Cronenberg flick. But Fresnadillo doesn’t exploit all the possibilities of the concept. There are a few thrilling scenes, notably one where a bunch of do-I-feel-lucky punks wearing blindfolds run through a forest until all but one has smacked their head into a tree, but they are few and far between. The Russian roulette scenes aren’t bad, but The Deer Hunter this isn’t.
The worst thing about the film is how badly drawn the characters are. I never understood the motivations of any of them. Much is made about how Tomás cares about his ex-girlfriend, but neither of them is developed and they don’t share a single scene together! Then you’ve got Samuel, who feels grateful yet guilty for surviving the Holocaust and what does he do with his spared life? He becomes a greedy bastard leading countless people to their ruin and death. There could be something interesting to the backstory of how Samuel takes Federico under his wing, but that leads nowhere. Federico leaves his mentor for no apparent reason, and we have no idea either why he decides to find Tomás and have him face off Samuel. Even more pointless is the whole thing with the chick detective. Why is she so determined to get this one bank robber basically on her own? What does it bring to the picture that she’s got the gift of luck herself?
Fresnadillo knows how to create atmosphere, the visuals and the score are pretty good and the actors do what they can with their one-dimensional characters, but in the end “Intacto” feels like a clever high-concept in search of a better movie.