The only types of people who'd keep a drawer full of eyes in their house are serial killers and taxidermists. In Fabián Bielinsky's attenuated thriller The Aura, Ricardo Darín plays a taxidermist—in fact, his character's name is "The Taxidermist"—though in this movie's universe, he and everyone he meets could just as easily be, if not a serial killer, then at least capable of committing a crime. Bielinsky's debut film, Nine Queens, took place in a world of double-dealing con men, but his second (and last; he died earlier this year) is set among ordinary men who get caught in extraordinary situations, and suddenly grasp that they've been living closer to the edge than they realized.
For Darin, that awareness has always been a part of who he is, albeit subtly. Darin's an epileptic, and at one point in The Aura, he explains the movie's title by describing what he goes through right before a fit, when everything's clean and clear, and he has the sense of calm that comes from knowing that "there's nothing to decide." The movie begins with Darin waking up from one of those fits, and indulging his favorite hobby: concocting plans for bank robberies that he'll never follow through on. Then he goes on a hunting trip with a buddy, and through a series of mishaps and coincidences, finds himself preparing to live out his dream and rob a backwoods casino.
The Aura gets a charge from Darin's quick-thinking improvisations, as he uses his photographic memory and guileless demeanor to command the attention of a gang of crooks. But Bielinsky isn't interested in making a conventionally twisty, gripping thriller. For every minute of plot, Bielinsky spends about three minutes watching Darin wander in a daze through the Argentine wilderness while moody symphonic music plays. Some of the outdoor photography is strikingly beautiful—like the ground's-eye view of tall, swaying trees—but the attempt to mark Darin as just another animal, working on instinct, never really resonates. Regardless, The Aura holds together as a dreamy variation on Reservoir Dogs' heist-gone-wrong fatalism and the know-thyself confrontations of David Mamet's Homicide. Bielinsky's death is unfortunate, because while he might never have become one of the greats, he was already one of the goods.