The story centers on two con artists who meet and decide to cooperate in a major scam. The film was nominated for 28 awards and won 21 of them, and is now considered a classic in Argentina's film history.
The film opens at a convenience store early in the morning. Juan, a con artist, successfully scams the cashier, but later makes the mistake of attempting the same scam again on the next shift. Marcos, who has been observing the whole time, steps in pretending to be a police officer and takes Juan away. As soon as they are far enough from the shop, Marcos tells Juan he is not actually a cop but a fellow con man. Juan asks Marcos to show him the ropes, because his father, also a con man, is in jail and he needs to raise money quickly to bribe a judge to reduce his father's sentence from 10 years to 6 months.
Then a rare scheme seemingly falls into their laps: Sandler, a former business associate of Marcos, needs his help to sell counterfeit copies he made of some rare stamps called "The Nine Queens". The potential mark is Gandolfo, a rich Spaniard who is facing deportation and desperate to smuggle his wealth out of the country. He has no time to fully check if the stamps are authentic but he hires an expert to do a quick check and is satisfied. He offers $450,000 for the stamps, the exchange to take place that evening. In the intervening time, a number of things go wrong. The stamp expert demands a cut, as he knew the stamps were in fact forged. The fake stamps are then stolen out of Juan and Marcos' hands by crooks on motorcycles who, unaware of their value, destroy them by tossing them into a river.
To salvage the scheme, Marcos approaches Sandler's widowed sister, the owner of the real stamps, who agrees to sell them for $250,000. Marcos can put up $200,000 and asks Juan to contribute the remaining $50,000. Juan suspects that he is being scammed, as it's a remarkable coincidence that Marcos needs just the amount that Juan has saved up; but as the $50,000 is not enough to help his father, he reluctantly agrees. They buy the real stamps and go to Gandolfo's hotel, but he says he has changed his mind and will now only buy the stamps if he also gets to sleep with Marcos' sister Valeria, a hotel employee. Valeria's price is that Marcos must confess to their younger brother how he cheated him out of an inheritance. Gandolfo pays for the stamps with a certified check, but the bank crashes the next day, making the check worthless.
It appears that Juan and Marcos are both ruined, but the final scene is a surprise ending. Juan goes to a warehouse, where he greets the motorcycle thieves, Sandler and his sister, Gandolfo, and Juan's fiancée Valeria — revealing that the real scam was to swindle Marcos out of $200,000 as revenge for all the times he cheated his family and his partners.
The main character of the film is trying to remember the tune of a Rita Pavone song throughout the film. The song by Rita Pavone "Il Ballo Del Mattone" plays as the end credits run.
The film opened wide in Argentina on August 31, 2000. The film was screened at various film festivals, including: the Telluride Film Festival, United States; the Toronto International Film Festival, Canada; the Medellín de Película, Colombia; the Portland International Film Festival, United States; the Cognac Festival du Film Policier, France; the München Fantasy Filmfest, Germany; the Norwegian International Film Festival, Norway; and others.
In the United States it opened on a limited basis on April 19, 2002.
The film's screenplay was adapted in the 2004 film Criminal. It was also used as a basis for three Indian films: the Bollywood film Bluffmaster! (2005), the Malayalam film Gulumal (2009) and the Telugu film All the Best (2012).
Nine Queens garnered mostly positive reviews from film critics. On review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an overall 92% "Certified Fresh" approval rating based on 93 reviews, with a rating average of 7.5 out of 10. The site's consensus is: "Deliciously twist-filled, Nine Queens is a clever and satisfying crime caper." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 0–100 reviews from film critics, the film has a rating score of 80 based on 30 reviews, classified as a generally favorably reviewed film.
Film critic Roger Ebert liked the screenplay of the film, and wrote, "And on and on, around and around, in an elegant and sly deadpan comedy. A plot, however clever, is only the clockwork; what matters is what kind of time a movie tells. Nine Queens is blessed with a gallery of well-drawn character roles, including the alcoholic mark and his two bodyguards; the avaricious widow who owns the 'nine queens' and her much younger bleached-blond boyfriend, and Valeria the sister, who opposes Marcos' seamy friends and life of crime but might be willing to sleep with Gandolfo if she can share in the spoils."
The San Francisco Chronicle film critic, Edward Guthmann, also reviewed the film positively and thought the actors performed quite well, writing, "Fast-paced and unerringly surprising, Nine Queens is nicely performed by a large cast, particularly Darín (El hijo de la novia) as a goateed, less-than-perfect hoodwinker. David Mamet plowed this con-the-con turf in Heist, House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner, but Bielinsky, in his directing debut, makes it seem sassy and reinvented."
WinsArgentine Film Critics Association Awards: Silver Condor; Best Actor, Ricardo Darín; Best Cinematography, Marcelo Camorino; Best Director, Fabián Bielinsky; Best Editing, Sergio Zottola; Best Film; Best Original Screenplay, Fabián Bielinsky; Best Supporting Actress, Elsa Berenguer; 2001.
Biarritz International Festival of Latin American Cinema: Best Actor, (tie) Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls; for Nueve reinas; 2001.
Bogotá Film Festival: Audience Award, Fabián Bielinsky; Golden Precolumbian Circle, Best Director, Fabián Bielinsky; 2001.
Lima Latin American Film Festival: Elcine First Prize, Fabián Bielinsky; 2001.
Lleida Latin-American Film Festival: Audience Award, Fabián Bielinsky; Best Director, Fabián Bielinsky; 2001.
Oslo Films from the South Festival: Audience Award, Fabián Bielinsky; 2001.
Cognac Festival du Film Policier: Grand Prix, Fabián Bielinsky; Premiere Award, Fabián Bielinsky; 2002.
Fantasporto: Directors' Week Award, Best Screenplay, Fabián Bielinsky; 2002.
Portland International Film Festival: Audience Award Best First Film, Fabián Bielinsky; 2002.
Sant Jordi Awards: Best Foreign Actor, Ricardo Darín. Also for La Fuga (2001) and El Hijo de la Novia (2001); 2002.