One for the Work Wife: “Intacto”

December 5, 2007

Recently, I had lunch with my work wife Kassandra which ended—as our lunches often do—in her basement armory where I hold forth on some topic of art or politics or social trends while she cleans one of her weapons. It’s like our own little Algonquin round table, if the Algonquin hotel had been owned by Blackwater. On this particular occasion we happened to be discussing this very blog.


“It’s interesting,” Kass said as she reassembled her duty weapon, an unlit wooden match wedged in her gritted teeth (she’d caught the 1980s Stallone movie Cobra during a bout of insomnia the night before and it had, apparently, left quite an impression). “It’s like your personality, only I can take it or leave it whenever I feel like it, rather than having to deal with it on a constant basis like in the office.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks.”

“Know what movie you should do?” she asked as she screwed a laser-sight beneath the slide. “That one I loaned you?”

“Which one?”

“That one I loaned you. Where the guys are running through the woods.” She tested the laser sight on the wall opposite us.

“You’ve never loaned me any DVDs.”

“Sure. Intacto. That was the name of it.”

“Yeah. I don’t think you loaned that to me. Maybe someone else…”

“I’m pretty sure it was you. It was someone male. Where’s your desk again?”

“In the same office as you. We share it.”

“Oh,” she sounded distracted, but in her defense she was trying to affix a set of zebra-patterened hardwood grips. “Yeah, no then it wasn’t you. Well, Intacto. You should review it. Hey, what do you think is a more fatal: bullet tipped with cyanide or a bullet tipped with rat poison.”

“Um, cyanide, I think.”

So I watched Intacto and now I’m gonna review it. Intacto is built upon a magical-realistic premise that it takes deadly serious and presents in a chilly, bloodless style. It’s like a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as filled by Atom Egoyan. Intacto is about luck, and it treats luck as a tangible, quantifiable asset. Luck is something we all carry with us, invisible but present in the design of our lives. It can be gained and lost, and it can also be won from someone else. That’s the ground that Intacto covers. The film delves into an underground world where luck is won and lost in games of chance that range from the simply bizarre (whose head will a ginormous bug land on?) to the sadistic (the film’s set-piece in which blindfolded contestants run through a forest trying not to slam into trees).

Our guide through this world is Federico, a young man who has lost his luck to a shadowy luck-Godfather played by Max von Sydow. Federico discovers Tomas, a thief and sole survivor of a plane crash, whom he mentors through this noirish world in much the same way that Fast Eddie mentored Vincent in The Color of Money. The final destination of this journey—the superbowl of luck-betting, as it were—is von Sydow’s casino in the Tenerife desert (shot to look like the end of the world or a base on the moon) where the stakes hit their terminal level. In the final game of chance, von Sydow and his chief competitor take turns firing a revolver at each other. The revolver has one chamber empty, and von Sydow always goes first. He never loses.

Much of this plot is revealed through the investigation of a detective hot on the trail of Tomas, who has been graced (or cursed, depending upon how you look at it) by no small amount of luck herself. This subplot is somewhat slight and more a mechanism of the film’s denouement than anything else.

Intacto reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode—not the ones that Serling wrote, but one of the ones based off a Richard Matheson short story—but is broader and more complex than a half-hour treatment could afford. It also bears a superficial similarity to The Cooler, in which William H. Macy has such bad luck that he’s employed by a casino boss to dampen the winning streaks of high-rollers. That movie, however, was uniquely American in its portrayal of a sad sack confronting his existential characteristics to win his freedom and Maria Bello. Intacto, instead, delves deeply into the thorny matter that luck is often a zero-sum game—you win, because someone else loses. Nowhere is this more explicit than when von Sydow’s character recounts the story of his survival in a concentration camp. But all of the characters are acutely and uncomfortably aware that their luck came at someone else’s expense. Now, von Sydow exists alone and in darkness, terrified that brushing up against the wrong person or being caught on camera will drain him of his luck. The film asks, is this worth it?

Intacto is an intriguing little film—though probably a good twenty minutes too long—and a good movie to have deep conversations about over drinks after viewings. I have no idea why the work wife likes it so much, but she has more layers than a deep-fried blooming onion appetizer, so that’s nothing new.


  1. I take it it wasn’t actually “Fantastic!” and “Mesmerizing!” as the box promises? I find your reviews of bad movies more fun, although I found this one entertaining due to your description of its circumstances.

    As for your debate, I don’t know if you could actually get enough rat poison or cyanide onto a bullet to kill someone.

    But I tend to agree with you–cyanide is probably the better option. Although rat poisons are usually anti-coagulants and seem like effective substances to deliver to a wound, they are systemic and work by making it hard for the body to synthesize clotting factors, so the effect wouldn’t be immediate on the wound. I think it takes a week or so. Rats are clever and “test” out their food, so they won’t continue to eat anything that has an immediate sickening effect. Therefore, poisons that have a very delayed effect work best on them.

    What you’d really want to use, I’d think, is some kind of snake or spider venom. However, venoms are proteins, and proteins denature at certain temperatures. Don’t bullets get very hot?

    In fact, I think cyanide is temperature sensitive as well, and I’d imagine that rat poison would be also.

    Luckily, a well-placed bullet can be pretty deadly all on its lonesome.

  2. I think she watched “Jaws 2” after she watched “Cobra.” It, too, obviously gave her some ideas.

  3. […] the Work-Wife: “Shoot ‘Em Up” February 1, 2008 So, I decided to cheer up Kassandra the work-wife after what had been for her a day of frustratingly fruitless attempts to affix a bayonet to her […]

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