Henry Hill in “Goodfellas” always wanted to be a gangster. In “El Angel,” wanting is beside the point. Introducing himself, Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) explains that it was his destiny to be a thief. Luis Ortega’s 1970s-set crime feature is inspired by the real-life killer Carlos Robledo Puch, who has served more than 45 years in prison in Argentina.
The movie opens with the willowy Carlitos, whose soft features and curls eventually earn him his nickname, breaking into a house, dancing in it and then stealing a motorcycle, which he tells his mother (Cecilia Roth) was a loan from a friend. (“People are always lending you things,” she remarks.)
Soon a classmate, Ramón (Chino Darín), introduces him to his criminal parents. The foursome briefly have the makings of a successful ring, until it becomes clear that the impulsive, disloyal Carlitos, held out as a potential sexual partner for all three, takes far more pleasure in living dangerously.
The decidedly modest achievement of “El Angel” is to put viewers in the shoes of a sociopath, a character for whom murder is so casual that he doesn’t even waste time to blink before shooting a truck driver or a security guard. Carlitos’s sole reason for living is moving from one transgression to the next.
The same might be said of the movie, which superficially probes his amorality while exploiting it for slick thrills. (When Carlitos sets a car ablaze, Ortega drops “House of the Rising Sun” — one of several Scorsese-esque music cues.) “El Angel” seems expressly designed to offer no insight — only an invitation to gaze into a terrifying black hole.