Film review: Criminal

Published: Friday, Oct. 8 2004 8:29 a.m. MDT

John C. Reilly, left, Diego Luna and Maggie Gyllenhaal star as Richard, Rodrigo and Valerie in "Criminal."

Suzanne Hanover, Warner Independent Pictures

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Aside from the obvious differences — such as the cast and setting — tone is what distinguishes the 2000 Argentine film "Nine Queens" from its remake, "Criminal."

In "Criminal," there's more of a grimy, street-feel to this crafty little con-game thriller than there was in the first film. That scuzziness makes it feel more like a David Mamet effort than the classier, more old-fashioned Argentine film.

"Criminal" refers to the actions of its characters, including Rodrigo, played by Diego Luna. He's a petty crook and is about to get pinched for trying to pull a grift in a casino when he's rescued by Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly), a fast-talking veteran crook who pretends to be a cop and quickly whisks Rodrigo out of the casino. He also has a proposition for the inexperienced crook — become his partner and learn the ropes.

To Richard's surprise, Rodrigo picks up the trade pretty quickly and, with Gaddis, gets involved in a much bigger deal. As it turns out, one of Gaddis' old business associates (Zitto Kazann) has an especially valuable counterfeit bill, which he wants to sell to British billionaire William Hannigan (Peter Mullan). The catch is, Gaddis has to make that deal in a day. And worse, he has to get his estranged sister, Valeria (Maggie Gyllenhaal), involved to make it work.

While the twists at the end are a little more predictable here than in the first film, it's still an assured work, especially considering that it comes from a first-time director. Gregory Jacobs is a longtime crony of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (who produced and co-wrote "Criminal" under the nom de plume Sam Lowry).

The cast is terrific. Reilly is as quietly commanding as usual, and he and Luna have a believable working chemistry. And although they have limited screen time, the supporting performers are also good, especially Gyllenhaal and Mullan.

"Criminal" is rated R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity and some crude sexual slang terms, violence (a brief scuffle and some gunplay), use of some ethnic slurs, and brief drug content (references to drug abuse). Running time: 87 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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