“VIPs”: This Wagner Moura-starrer is Brazil’s answer to “Catch Me If You Can”

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Before he blew international audiences’ minds with his tour-de-force performance in Netflix’s Narcos, Brazilian superstar Wagner Moura played another real-life character operating on the wrong side of the law in Toniko Melo’s 2010 film VIPs, based on a Brazilian con-man named Marcelo Nascimento da Roch. Marcelo enjoyed a brief but unbelievably successful stint impersonating several personalities, from ordinary folk to well-known billionaires. Armed with a childish charm and an admirable combination of unfaltering energy and determination, Marcelo managed to fool many people into believing that he was whoever he said he was.

Marcelo is the Brazilian version of another real-life con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can.) One of his talents, right from a very early age, was his ability to mimic the voices of people around him. We learn that his dad was a pilot and that he very much wishes to be just like him. His mother, a hairdresser, is not too content with his loser status and lies to her customers about how well her son is doing. Like her, Marcelo too had the ability to concoct brilliant stories. Frustrated and fed up with his miserable existence as a daydreaming, good-for-nothing, he leaves home and manages to get a job washing the sole aircraft at an air-freight service in some remote location. He persuades the pilot there to give him flying lessons and very soon finds himself helping drug traffickers smuggle their goods.

Given his high level of intelligence and knack for improvisation, he manages to get out of several tricky situations. Without giving too much of the rest of the story, I’ll just say that the film has some clever and engaging sequences that, I don’t think would’ve been carried out the way they are if it were some other actor in this part. Moura is in every scene and his charisma and manic energy perfectly complement the chameleon-like character that he is playing. This is a solid character study with some nice ambiguities thrown in for good measure. Marcelo suffered from a severe identity crisis and a neat revelation towards the end of the film gives us a clue as to what made him turn out this way. Watch if you are a fan of Moura. And do watch both the Elite Squad films too if you haven’t already.

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