John C. Reilly
is one of my favorite actors, which makes it very easy for me to
say that his performance is absolutely the best thing about the
feature film debut of Director Gregory Jacobs. Based on the film Nine
Queens, Criminal is a slick caper film that plays
the "who's conning who" game over and over again.
Produced by George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, and Jacobs
himself, Criminal allows John C. Reilly to take center
stage as a character very similar to those he's played (in
secondary character roles) in other films before. He gets to be
the star here and his performance, along with the work of Diego
Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal, are what makes Criminal a
very entertaining film.
While there's not a lot of depth to the film, it is incredibly
well acted and really comes across as a bit of a poor-man's caper
film. There aren't a lot of heists and cons going on (save for
one really big one), and the film is mostly dialogue-driven.
Jacobs does a fine job of creating the tension and suspense of
his film, but ultimately comes up short with a fairly obvious
(and slightly contrived) conclusion. The ending is almost so
obvious that you can't possibly believe it. It's simply too
obvious. There has to be another twist. Alas, the
"twist" at the end of the film is it, and
unfortunately, it's one that we've seen plenty of times before.
I don't want to
get ahead of myself though because the first two-thirds of Criminal
is very good. It's fast-paced and witty with some interesting
banter between Richard (John C. Reilly) and Rodrigo (Diego Luna)
and some great exchanges all around. I admire Jacobs for leaving
Luna's dialogue, in the beginning of the film, in subtitled
Spanish as it proves to be an important plot point and allows
that much more depth for the character. Reilly and Luna do a
great job of working together to make their partnership
believable, and it's clear within the first act that they both
need each other. This connection is what makes the entire first
two-thirds of the film work so well. Reilly and Luna need each
other, even if they'd rather be doing their own thing to score
the big money.
me about Criminal is how underused Maggie Gyllenhaal is
throughout most of the film. For the first two-thirds of the
film, she simply plays Richard's sister and spends most of her
screen time answering to him. Gyllenhaal handles the material
well, but quickly becomes overshadowed by Reilly, Luna, and the
rest of the plot. That is, until Gregory Jacobs needs her again
in the third act for a major plot turn. And this, unfortunately,
is where the film falls a bit flat for me. Everything was working
well, going along smoothly, until Jacobs throws this little twist
into the mix. It seems contrived and obvious at the same time,
and does nothing but take us out of the world that Reilly and
Luna had done such a good job of bringing us into. Criminal
loses its focus once they take a backseat to the plot and to
Jacobs would have been so much better off sticking with what
worked in the first two-thirds of the film, scrapping the
"twist" ending, and keeping Reilly and Luna at the
forefront of the story. Instead, he opts to go the easy route by
providing the same type of ending we've seen in so many caper
films before Criminal. How great would it be to see a
caper film that ends with no one getting the big score by conning
the other? How about one where everyone's conning everyone, but
nobody wins? Maybe I'm being cynical, but the ending of Criminal
bothered me just because I saw it coming a mile away and
anyone who has seen even a few caper films will do the same.
film's shortcomings, nevertheless, Criminal still ends
up being an entertaining ride through Reilly's world of grifters
and petty crooks. There are a feat neat little cons that Richard
and Rodrigo pull off before they set their eyes on the big score,
and that was enough to get me interested enough to watch the film
all the way through, even though I knew what was about to happen.
The film still ends up being a fast-paced, witty caper film that
simply lost its originally two-thirds of the way through.
is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen format that
excels in many ways with only a few slight problems. Colors
saturation is the best thing about this transfer as is evidenced
by the bright colors inside the casino, at the beginning of the
film, and the dark red tones inside Richard's "office."
Fleshtones are accurate, and detail is top notch throughout.
Shadows and lighting are well delineated, and black levels are
deep and rich even if they could occasionally be a shade darker.
The only issues with this transfer are some occurrences of slight
edge enhancement and a few spots on the print that show up from
time to time. Otherwise, this is a top-notch transfer that serves
the film well in just about every way.
The audio on
this disc is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 that manages to get
the job done without drawing a lot of attention to itself. Criminal
is a dialogue-heavy film, and this track does a fine job of
providing clear, crisp, and distinct speech throughout. There are
a few instances where it gets a bit quiet in the center channel,
but it is always discernable and never gets overwhelmed by the
rest of the soundtrack. Spatial separation is just fine and
balance, across all channels, is equally good. Don't expect to
hear a lot of action in the surrounds or the .1 LFE channel. This
isn't exactly a film that caters to surround effects and rumbling
bass. The track still does a nice job with what it's given and,
ultimately, provides a very good aural experience.
The only extra features on this disc are the theatrical
trailer for Criminal, and two trailers
for Blessed and We Don't Live Here Anymore.
John C. Reilly
finally gets to be the star. Unfortunately, the film only allows
him to shine for about two-thirds of its running time. Criminal
proves to be a lean, fast-paced caper film that is absorbing and
entertaining most of the way. Its conclusion is contrived and
obvious, but doesn't completely obliterate everything good that
came before it (like, for instance, the ending of Phone Booth).
Instead, the ending of Gregory Jacobs's feature film debut only
makes Criminal seem more like a paint-by-numbers caper
film, rather than the originally independent film it is for its
first two acts. Although Warner Bros. has provided a nice
audio-visual presentation, the lack of extra material is a
disappointment. Nevertheless, the performances of Reilly, Luna,
and Gyllenhaal are enough to warrant at least a rental.