Much like previous con films before it like Matchstick Men and The Grifters, Criminal tells the story of a veteran taking a young inexperienced rookie under his wing and showing him the tricks behind the money, and the con artist philosophy.
Based on the Argentinean film Nine Queens, Richard (John C. Reilly, Magnolia) spots Rodrigo (Diego Luna, The Terminal) trying to hustle drink money in a club. He hustles Rodrigo out, and discovers Rodrigo is doing this to earn m…ney for his father, who’s incurred a large gambling debt to mobsters. Richard decides to show Rodrigo how the grift works, and Rodrigo even has a few tricks for Richard. Things become interesting when Richard’s sister Valerie calls him (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary) from her job at a 4 star hotel to inform him he has a visitor. Valerie is aware of Richard’s work and hates it, and him, as he is in the midst of a legal battle with her for their mother’s estate. Throughout the day, Richard and Rodrigo help Richard’s hotel friend attempt to sell a counterfeit treasury document to a wealthy investor. Along the way, we discover the lengths Richard goes to to pull off the deal, and you see just how many people want a piece of the pie. As is the case with con movies, there’s a twist at the end that we don’t see coming, but in a sense, since Reilly is such a sympathetic face, you almost don’t want it to happen that way.
Written and directed by Gregory Jacobs, a longtime member of Steven Soderbergh’s filmmaking crew (Soderbergh and George Clooney produced the film), most grift films are pretty good, and this one isn’t bad either. Reilly does a good job as Richard, but because you see him as a pushover sometimes, being a hardened con seems to be a bit of a miscast. You stay involved in the film and at the end, even though it’s a little sour, considering what Richard does to close the deal, it’s more than a little warranted.
Warner Brothers keeps up the good work, as another dialogue-driven con movie is given a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Overall, it’s a very muted soundtrack, but when needing to provide ambient sound effecting, it does well.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen view of Criminal looks very good. There appear to be a good number of unscripted, handheld shots, and they look better than I was expecting. The overall image doesn’t appear sharp consistently, but I think that’s partially due to the way it was shot.
All that’s here is a trailer and two film recommendations. Now THAT’S a crime!
Like most films about cons, Criminal is good fun, though not entirely memorable. The performances by Reilly, Gyllenhaal and Luna are good and the film is shot very well, but there’s not too much that makes it stand out from past films. Check it out for Reilly’s performance though, it’s definitely a change from previous roles.
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