This crime biopic has all the right pieces yet frequently misplaces them.
El Angel is a misleading title, yet not in the ways you’d expect. We’re introduced to a wide-eyed teenager named Carlos Robledo Puch (Lorenzo Ferro), nicknamed “Carlitos,” as he steals and dances his way through the opening scenes. He’s got the mug of a carefree youth, with absorbing dark eyes, a magnetic smile and charmingly unkempt golden curls.
Personality-wise, Carlitos boasts the swagger of a conceited celebrity (which he soon becomes, but we’ll get to that later), and Ferro brings his own unique bluster to a character in demand of such amiable arrogance. The film is Ferro’s first and currently sole acting credit, but the young man brings such depth to the role that he often mirrors the talents of his far more seasoned peers.
The plot of El Angel develops as Carlitos becomes intertwined into the life of Ramón Peralta (Chino Darín), a rebellious young man involved in the family business of crime along with his father, José (Daniel Fanego). With an already-established penchant for thievery, Carlitos gleefully welcomes this new opportunity, which escalates as the film progresses from robbery to accidental shootings to willing and mindful homicide.
Those aware of Puch’s true story already know that the youth eventually became an established serial killer and assumed the nickname “The Angel of Death” for his baby-faced barbarity, and is currently the longest-serving prisoner in the history of Argentina. For others, the film simply carries the momentum of a fictional crime drama. Either way, it’s a fascinating story worthy of being told, and Luis Ortega’s screenplay and direction help bring extra weight to the source material’s strengths.
However, the storytelling is not without its speed bumps. Ferro, undoubtedly, is the film’s centerpiece. Without a performance this good, El Angel would have likely assumed the role of ho-hum biopic due to its occasionally pedestrian scripting. It’s not as if the film doesn’t have momentum, but one can’t help but notice the red lights throughout the film. We stop. We’re bored. And then we’re captivated once more.
Thankfully, Ferro carries the film with charms and chills. Playing a serial killer is all about the eyes (think the unblinking Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs or the calmly malevolent gaze of No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh), and Ferro’s stare is nothing short of menacing. He draws you in, then sends shivers directly to your bones.
Overcoming his lesser script, Ortega’s direction carries much of the film’s intrigue as well. He seems consistently curious about Carlitos’ actions around others, how others perceive him and how the true psychological depths of Puch become slowly unraveled. Carlitos seems indifferent to the violence and theft, and his apathy ultimately defines his sociopathic evil. The photography by Julián Apezteguia uses light and shadows in visually pleasing ways, often resembling the balance between its protagonist’s physical beauty and mental brutality, while Guille Gatti’s editing keeps the action moving at a pace that rarely loses your attention despite the occasional hiccups of the screenplay.
Overall, this crime biopic has all the right pieces yet frequently misplaces them, ultimately becoming something that is engaging in the moment yet perpetually forgettable as you become more distant from it. Like the internal duality of its subject, the film often suffers from a similarly bipolar disposition.