A sleekly fashioned true-crime story without much on its mind, "El Angel" comes from Argentine filmmaker Luis Ortega, who works from various accounts of the serial killer Carlos Eduardo Robledo Puch, nicknamed "the Angel of Death." Since his 1972 arrest, at the age of 20, Puch has spent his life behind bars. Eleven murders, assorted robberies, various sexual assaults and other crimes put him there.
What made this young man do what he did? His early years lacked the customary serial-killer circumstances. At Puch's trial, the examining psychiatrist's report noted his upbringing in "a legitimate and complete home, absent from unfavorable hygienic and moral circumstances," marked by zero "economic constraints of importance, reverses of fortune, abandonment of the home, lack of work, personal misfortune, illness, affective conflicts, overcrowding or promiscuity." Tantalizingly for the populace obsessed with Puch's trail of blood, he was a riveting cipher: an apparent good boy gone bad.sh with English subtitles.
The movie is neither good nor bad. It's simply OK, proficient in its craft, deftly acted as far as the roles allow the actors to get with them. Lorenzo Ferro portrays Carlos, a one-man boy band, without the band. In "El Angel" Carlos seems perpetually in search of his own teen-heartthrob bedroom poster. Director Ortega's screenplay downplays the more unsavory aspects of his subject's resume (namely, the rapes) while foregrounding a thematic notion of its own, that of Carlos' tortured, closet-y sexuality being the driving force behind his psychopathology.
Carlos is first seen casually burglarizing a house in 1971 Buenos Aires, not far from his own home, where his very ordinary if increasingly credulous parents live a generically respectable life. At the vocational school he attends, Carlos falls in with fellow miscreant Ramon (Chino Darin, a wry poseur). They meet over a brawl; facially banged up, thanks to a punch thrown by Ramon, Carlos meets his new frenemy's parents. Fame-seeking Ramon, his heroin addict ex-con father (Daniel Fanego) and his carelessly sensual mother (Mercedes Moran) serve as the family Carlos has been craving. They're open to making their larcenous threesome a quartet.
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From there "El Angel" follows Carlos to his destiny, from one murder to another, all the while exploring the limits of his own narcissistic ego. It's easy to see what writer-director Ortega saw in the material. It is, however, hard to say what Ortega has done with it, beyond establishing a callow, palatably vicious comic tone in most of the sequences, and delivering a familiar sort of movie glamour to Puch's environs.
The director uses songs (a Spanish-language version of "House of the Rising Sun," for example) the way Martin Scorsese does in so many of his own films: for sudden-impact dramatic irony and effect. Ortega's technique is present and accounted for. But too little of "El Angel" escapes a second-hand, been-there, killed-that feeling.
No MPAA rating (violence, nudity, language)
Running time: 1:55