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Criminal  (2004)


Rating: R

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: April 12, 2005
Review posted: April 11, 2005


Reviewed by Rachel Sexton




Experienced con man Richard (John C. Reilly) takes young Rodrigo (Diego Luna) under his wing in L.A. while he negotiates the sale of a rare bill. Richard’s hostile sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) also gets involved, to Rodrigo’s delight. Who’s really conning who, though?


Is it just me or have a lot of caper films appeared lately? Well, the trademarks of the genre have certainly become clearer and clearer to me. The biggest is the surprise ending. You know if you’ve seen enough of them that heist films always end up with the reveal of who’s really conning who. Sometimes the mentor-student relationship enters into the plot. There can also possibly be a romance. All of this is included in this film. Criminal follows all the formulas of a caper film but is kept at above average quality by solid performances and subtle direction.


Based on the Spanish film Nine Queens, Criminal begins with a script that provides well written characters with believable situations. The way Richard and Valerie fight and the backstory slowly revealed concerning them is the real human drama at the core of this heightened criminal world. The immediate reaction of Rodrigo to Valerie is also something that feels real (women will like it of course!) and it ties to the resolution of the plot nicely. You may expect it but the story is still satisfying. The scene where Valerie makes Richard confess to their brother Michael why they are fighting is one of the most poignant I have ever seen in a film of this genre.


Humor comes through in some of the scenes that really works with this story. Everyone wants a percentage of the score, there are robberies and attempted robberies of the loot, and the irony of the brief “con” scenes Richard does for Rodrigo can make you laugh. Director Jacobs is faced with several scenes he must stage the same way: Richard and Rodrigo talking while walking or riding in a car. He makes these less static by mixing up the camera angles, but it is still a bit noticeable. I like the costuming here and the choice of L.A. locations. My favorite production value though is the music, which is kind of jazzy and upbeat.


An excellent cast is this film’s best asset. Reilly is perfectly cast and he is one of most reliable non-famous actors working today. It is interesting that his is the lead character and he’s not very likeable at the same time. Luna has a heated charm that I hope is around for a long time and his short screen time with Gyllenhaal creates adequate chemistry. I couldn’t help wondering what another actress might do with some of the time Gyllenhaal get here, though.


The bright L.A. days are transferred well from big to small screen in this anamorphic widescreen presentation.


Dolby Digital is a good format for the peppy score here. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are offered as well.


Theatrical Trailer: This is a really good one, with good voice-over, use of clips, and use of the title. There is even a scene used here that I wish had made it into the film but ultimately didn’t! There are two other trailers here but no other special features.        


The caper film can by now seemingly offer no new innovations but Criminal is an entry into the genre that provides the expected elements with some performances and direction that make it more than worth the price of a rental. More extras would only have boosted the overall experience but the film is good viewing in itself.




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