A review of “Criminal” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for sex, language and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

 

 

The classic crime caper twists and turns with easy subtly in this contemporary remake of the rather contemporary (2000) Argentinean thriller Nine Queens.

Quintessential character actor John C. Reilly (Chicago) is Richard Gaddis, a fast-talking rook with bucks on the brain. Gaddis senses promise in fledgling con man Rodrigo (Diego Luna), and makes his pitch.  Quid pro quo: I’ll show you the ropes in exchange for some on-the-job collaboration.

For what it’s worth, Rodrigo’s motivation is tinged with innocence; his dad is struggling with a huge gambling debt and the dutiful son is honor-bound to help.  Gaddis just wants to get rich – quick.  When opportunity knocks, in the form of a forged 1878 Monroe Silver Certificate, Gaddis opens the door.

The pair hatches a plan to pawn the rare counterfeit currency off on an unsuspecting collector (the enigmatic Peter Mullan), but they can’t go it alone.  Help arrives in the sultry form of Valerie Gaddis (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Gaddis’ sister and top concierge at a swanky LA hotel.  Oh so convenient, since Gaddis’ “client” is hunkered down in the luxury suite, ripe for the sting.

Small fly in the ointment: Valerie despises her brother and his unseemly line of work.  Seems Gaddis is mixed up in some funny business involving a family inheritance and the bickering sibs are on opposing sides of the sticky domestic drama. It’s going to get ugly.

Criminal is the quintessential con game in which everyone is screwing everyone else and no one knows who is screwing whom. Note to Nine Queens fans: narrative ambushes have a been-there, done-that quality, so best check your memory at the door.

Pace suffers a slight push and pull as the leads strive to establish an uneasy partnership in preparation for the big deal. Gyllenhaal is a revelation as the cool and caustic Valerie. Reilly, in an uncharacteristically slippery role, takes some getting used to but ultimately manages to convey a sense of the egotistical cad for whom rules don’t apply.