Suffering has always been good for business, varying only in the methods employed in a given geography. In Argentina, over 8000 people are killed and 100000 are injured annually in car crashes. This has given birth to an elaborate industry of car insurance payouts. Everyone is in on it, from the ambulance crew that reaches the scene before the crash is reported, the doctors at casualty that documents the accident to maximize the reward, the family looking for the windfall, and even the victim who capitalizes on ill fortune or helps arrange the ‘accident’ to begin with. None of this would be possible without the carancho, or vulture, who provides the legal representation in court and the guidance before and after the trauma. Ricardo Darin plays Sosa, the facilitator in this story, and he is wearied by this hateful work and his parasitic existence.
He lost his license to practice law, and now he is forced to work with a corrupt firm that churns out these accidents with frightening regularity. Sosa attempts to assuage his conscience by comparing himself to a social worker, arranging cash for people who are deep in debt, or for families who cannot survive without their newly dead breadwinner. There is a great deal of truth to this in low income economies, where the lower class (or fallen middle class) individuals or families have limited options to achieving some sort of stability in life. Even so, Sosa is well aware that his firm keeps the vast majority of any settlement.
This system is shown as a rather profitable leviathan, one that nobody shows an interest in stopping. And who would object? Politicians are lawyers for the most part, and capping awards would be tantamount to professional suicide; the hospitals can always use the business; families appreciate the liquidity in the system with cash awards. The insurance companies have an interest in reducing these awards, and drive tort reform in some countries where they can afford hundreds of millions of lobbying dollars for government. Still, business is good enough not to care too much. Sosa cannot take this any further, as he is the one who must arrange the site of an accident, break some bones prior to impact to ensure a sizable settlement, and swindle the families while they thank him for it. Given that he is one man against this system, you can tell this will not go well at all.
His change of heart is forced when he meets an emergency doctor named Lujan on one of his jobs. She is exhausted, has no life, and enjoys only the occasional syringe of morphine to lend the illusion of contentment. They are damaged people, and their relationship has the appearance of a pending trauma. This provides an emotional counterweight to a brutal film that lacks any real sympathy for these characters now caught in a tangled wreckage that reveals itself gradually. Their desire is an age-old phenomenon in cinema, to ‘get away’, as if any other location would be better for them. The bridge to this place is that one last job that will allow them to escape.
In the end, Sosa must find a way out of his employment, away from the thugs they employ to keep him in line, guarantee that a family receives all the money coming to them, and provide safety for himself and Lujan. Carancho constructs a painful trap for its characters, and has its share of visceral thrills until Sosa and Lujan’s lives of compromise ensnare them. The ending itself is an unnecessary twist that would be poetic if only it were random, rather than the compulsive intent of a screenwriter to come up with something snappy to close the movie. Still, Carancho is effective and affecting in its consideration of people who exist on the margins of legality.