Criminal (2004)
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Review Date: September 03, 2004
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Gregory Jacobs, Sam Lowry
Producers: George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh
John C. Reilly
Diego Luna
Maggie Gyllenhaal
One older, wiser con-man picks up another younger, more wet-behind-the-ears con-man and helps him learn more about their trade during an intense day of "getting to know you". As their day progresses, one major scheme comes to the forefront involving forged money, a billionaire who wants it and the older con-man's hot sister who works at the hotel at which the rich guy is staying. Cons ensue.
I believe the obscene trend of remaking classics and/or foreign films is an embarrassment to Hollywood and will, one day, be looked down upon as one of the least creative and fruitful periods in its development. It's an accounting game, plain and simple. That said, I don't feel the need to re-iterate how much it sucks that Hollywood can't look inwards for fresh ideas, but do think that it's good to mention every now and again. I say this at the top of this particular review because this movie is a remake of the Argentinean hit NINE QUEENS, which was a great con movie, in the same vein as David Mamet's stuff. I won't be comparing the films because I find that practice to be unproductive as well-what's the point of me telling you that this or that movie is better...the bottom line should be: is this movie good or not? The answer to that question is: yes, yes it is good...but not as good as the original...hehehe. Seriously though, taken on its own, CRIMINAL works as your run-of-the-mill "who's gonna fuck who over first" type of movie, with plenty of seedy characters, two seemingly trustworthy leads and tons of double-crosses, twists, turns, backstabs and even a con or two, mixed in for kicks. The film starts quick, grabs the viewer by following the two leads directly into a number of seemingly easy con schemes, and holds you there with two affable performances by the two actors, who spend almost every living minute on the screen, John C. Reilly and Diego Luna. Reilly, who for once is cast as something other than the "vulnerable guy" (which works against him at times here, but at least he's trying something different), is alright as the wiser of the two con-men, without overshadowing his partner, and allowing either him, or the audience, to believe him to be smarter/dumber than he really is.

Coincidentally enough, Reilly himself played in a similar film entitled HARD EIGHT, written and directed by the great P.T. Anderson, in which he portrayed the "other character" in the movie, the one being taught by the older, wiser guy...i.e. the schmuck. The schmuck in this case is played by Luna, who is starting to grow on me as an actor. He and Reilly both share a similar trait as actors and that's the ability to come off very naturally on the screen. He's also got that innocent-looking face, which as Reilly's character points out in the film, is something that you can't buy. Maggie Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, wasn't utilized to her full potential here, and to be honest, didn't really work for me either. Either her character was underwritten or she didn't bring much to the table, but I wasn't as interested in her or her side of the story in this film. The pace and the directing of the picture was good, and even though most of the cons were fun to watch, it did get to a point where too many bits seemed somewhat contrived or coincidental. Of course, having seen the original, I remembered most of the twists, so the full impact of the film's finale wasn't as potent, but it was still a fun ride with a couple of interesting characters pulling off some nice scams. That said, it's also one of those movies that will have you looking back and questioning a lot of what happened before it (does that make sense now? How did that person know that about this and that?), but you either have to go with it while you're watching and enjoy, or watch, bitch and write it off afterwards. I enjoyed it overall and recommend it to anyone who appreciates a light Mamet-esque cocktail. That said, rent the original...it's better! Note: This screenplay was co-written by "Sam Lowry", who in reality is writer/director Steven Soderbergh.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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