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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Criminal
Criminal
Warner Bros. // R // April 12, 2005
List Price: $27.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted June 12, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
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.

What surprised 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 Gyllenhaal's character.

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.

Despite the 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.

The DVD

Video:
Criminal 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.

Sound:
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.

Extras:
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.

Final Thoughts:
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.

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