Loosely based on the life of one of Argentina’s most notorious serial killers, filmmaker Luis Ortega’s El Angel doesn’t boast a lot of narrative depth or character, but it certainly succeeds through forceful storytelling form and an electrifying lead performance from Lorenzo Ferro.
Carlos “Carlitos” Puch (Ferro) was a good looking, charming, and eager young man from an upstanding, working class family. He was also a budding psychopath, who started his criminal career in the early 1970s by stealing anything he could get his hands on, not because he needed things, but because he knew he could get away with anything. Carlitos stepped up to the big time via an attraction to Ramon (Chino Darín), a classmate hailing from a family of criminals. Carlitos is immediately welcomed into the fold of Ramon’s family, but the young man’s increasingly violent, trigger happy, and devil-may-care personality starts putting all of them in grave jeopardy.
Director and co-writer Ortega never satisfyingly fleshes out Puch’s relationships to those around him, and El Angel often feels like an episodic rundown of formative moments in the killer’s life. While these moments often yield plenty of memorable sequences of drama and coal black comedy, Ortega’s vision never gels into a thoroughly satisfying hold. Then again, when you have a lead performance like the one given by the swaggering and genuinely menacing Ferro, such oversights are easily forgivable, and the film remains eminently engaging in spite of its faults. Ferro’s performance makes one immediately think that this was what Heath Ledger’s Joker character was like as a young man. Ferro doesn’t just make the movie. He IS the movie.