John C. Reilly creates a con artist to root for - and against - in this tight caper drama.
Rated R for language; 87 minutes.
Opening today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.
"Criminal" is a con-artist caper based on one of the best movies of 2000, the Argentine film "Nine Queens" - and while it's nowhere near as exciting as the original, it does work well on its own scruffy level.
The story begins in an L.A. gambling hall with a young hustler, Rodrigo (played by Diego Luna with full puppy-dog charm), getting nabbed by a detective. But he's not a detective - he's Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly), a veteran con man who sees potential in Rodrigo and takes him under his wing to show him how to perform bigger swindles.
Over the course of about 24 hours, Richard and Rodrigo go from quick scores - Richard, almost as a reflex, avoids paying for a cup of coffee when he can flim-flam his way out of it - to a huge deal involving selling forged currency to a visiting Scottish tycoon (Peter Mullan). That deal gets further complicated because it takes place in the Biltmore Hotel (which photographs gorgeously, by the way), where Richard's estranged sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the concierge.
Director Gregory Jacobs (a frequent second-unit director for Steven Soderbergh, who co-produced and gave Jacobs an unbilled screenwriting assist) keeps things moving fast, flowing with handheld camera that provides a closeup view of the back alleys and service corridors of Richard's world, juxtaposed with the high life of the posh Biltmore. Jacobs is also incredibly economical; like a smash-and-grab job, the movie gets in, springs the con and gets out quick - leaving the viewer to replay the twists on his or her own time.
The treat of "Criminal" is watching the great character actor John C. Reilly - it's not for nothing he was in three of the 2003 Best Picture Oscar nominees, "Chicago," "The Hours" and "Gangs of New York" - take center stage for a change. Reilly, with his baby-faced gruffness, depicts Richard as a guy who sees every angle except the one that may threaten him the most: a person with morality. Reilly's Richard may be a larcenous soul, but the performance makes "Criminal" far more than a guilty pleasure.