© 2004 Ray Wong
CRIMINAL is a slick Indie film about con artists, in the vein of OCEAN 11 but in a smaller scale. The result is a taut, character-driven ride with, alas, a frizzled ending.
Rodrigo is a down-and-out con man that is not very good at what he does. He has potential, however, and he catches the eyes of master crook Richard Gaddis. After his ex-partner failed him, Gaddis is in need of a partner who has the smarts and guts to carry out a con, but the innocence to not stab him in the back. And Rodrigo seems perfect.
As Gaddis teaches Rodrigo the fine art of smalltime cons, he comes upon an opportunity of a lifetime when his ex-partner Ochoa shows up at the Biltmore Hotel, where Gaddis’ sister Valerie works. Gaddis learns that Ochoa has successfully counterfeited a rare treasury bond and a potential buyer is staying at the Biltmore for only one night. Soon everybody wants in on the scam and the stakes gets higher and higher as Gaddis and Rodrigo try to close the deal.
One of the strengths of this film is the cast of seasoned, talented performers. Reilly (CHICAGO), in one of his few headline roles, is both despicable and fascinating to watch. His portrayal of Gaddis is three-dimensional and he makes us sympathize with the character even though we shouldn’t (and that may be a fatal flaw to the film, too – I will tell you why later). Luna (THE TERMINAL) is affecting and perfect as Rodrigo. He and Reilly have great chemistry together and you really believe in their relationship. Gyllenhaal (MONA LISA SMILE) looks mature and sophisticated, but she’s simply too young to be Reilly’s sister. Her performance is, however, excellent. Tucker (THE DEEP END) plays Gaddis’ younger brother – the problem is, there is at least 20 years age difference between Tucker and Reilly, making the supposedly deep bond between them unbelievable. Mullan and Kazann round out the cast nicely as businessman Hannigan and Ochoa respectively.
Writer-director Jacobs (OCEAN 11) has written a smart script with real, sharp dialogue and interesting characters. However, I think he gets somewhat carried away in being too smart. The plot unfolds almost too perfectly at times. In hindsight we see that it is deliberate, but it still feels manipulative. Too smart for it’s own good. The direction is smooth and taut, and pacing is just about right. I especially like the fact that the characters are revealed slowly, giving us a glimpse here and there, as the plot unfolds. It gives us a sense of intimacy, even when we don’t particularly like these characters.
As I said above, I think the weakest aspect of the film is the “trick” ending. It’s a clever ending but it’s too clever for its own good. Emotionally, it alienates the audience and makes us feel cheated, as we’ve invested in these characters. To realize that we’ve been “duped,” so to speak, leaves a really unsatisfying taste in our mouths. And I don’t think it’s the reaction the filmmakers want. To top it off, we’re supposed to despise Gaddis so much that it makes the ending satisfying. But Reilly is so good in the role that we actually feel sympathy for him, despite his obvious flaws and sometimes-nasty personality. If there’s a crime for being too good an actor for the material, Reilly is the true criminal here.
Stars: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Gregory Jacobs
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for language and theme
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 6
Production – 6
Total Score – 6.6 out of 10