Y’ain’t Seen!?… is a semi-regular column about movies you potentially have not seen, or ain’t seen lately.
words :: Feet Banks
If I was trying to fuck you… you’d be fucked.Richard Gaddis
Being a con artist is all about confidence, isn’t it? It’s right there in the name CONfidence Artist. The creativity to conceive a good scam, mixed with the courage to attempt it, topped off with the quick wit and intuition to pull it off… Sure, it sucks when you are the mark but done correctly, Con Artistry sure makes for good movies.
So, if you ain’t seen 2004’s Criminal you probably ain’t seen Nine Queens, the (reportedly) superior Argentinian film it remakes. Apparently Neuva Reinas/Nine Queens kicks a lot of ass, but it’s not currently available in Canada (except on the dark web) so for the intents and purposes of this week’s column, we’re going with Criminal—a character-driven heist drama with a stacked cast and Steven Soderberg’s fingerprints all over it.
Its an asshole move to talk too much about the plot in a crime movie so let’s focus on the cast. John C. Reilly leads the charge here as a veteran (albeit small-time) conman chipping away at a decent life, even if he’s managed to estrange his own sister with his continuous bullshit.
Reilly had already established himself in 96-97 with Hard Eight and Boogie Nights but 2004 represents a sweet spot because it’s just before he went on the legendary comedic run (Talladega Nights, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Stepbrothers) that made him a household name. Acting, obviously, is a sort of con in itself and Reilly brings the perfect mix of earnestness and swarm to this part.
Opposite him, Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Narcos: Mexico, Rogue One) fills in as the likeable rookie crook with the heart of gold, altruistically nickel and diming marks in order to cover his ailing father’s gambling debts. Add in Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary, Donnie Darko, The Dark Knight) as the aforementioned pissed off sister, Michael Shannon (The Runaways, Midnight Special, Take Shelter) as a heat score and Criminal serves up primo performances in a tightly plotted thriller that’s easy to get into even if it maybe doesn’t totally stick the landing.
Steven Soderberg (Oceans 11, Magic Mike) produced this remake and also co-wrote it with first-time director Gregory Jacobs (an established assistant director who’s also worked with the Coen brothers and Richard Linklater). Is it as good as Neuva Reinas? Probably not, hopefully one day we can find out. For right now however, it’s good enough for me.
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