Rodrigo (Diego Luna) enters a casino, takes a seat and orders a drink. He only has a $100 bill and the
waitress reluctantly agrees to make the change. Suddenly, he “remembers” his change from a taxi ride
and he pulls off a fast handed con game. Emboldened, he tries the same trick on another waitress but she is
wise to his con. She shouts for Security but before they can take control of the situation, a local cop
intervenes and hustles the hustler out the door. But, Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) is not a cop but a con
man, too, who makes Rodrigo a one-time proposition in “Criminal.”
In 2000, Argentine helmer Fabian Bielinsky created a slick little crime caper called “Nine Queens” about an
ambitious conman who tries to have it all as he makes a once-in-a-lifetime hustle that could set him up for
good. Frosh writer/director Gregory Jacobs (who has had a long career as first and second assistant
director starting, early on, with “Miller’s Crossing” and “Little Man Tate”) has taken, as his first foray
into making feature, Bielinsky’s work and turned it into a Hollywood-lite version of the original.
Virtually a blow-by-blow remake of “Nine Queens,” “Criminal” makes the story of cons, deception,
retribution and debacle acceptable to English-speaking audiences that don’t have the patience for subtitles.
Unfortunately, the original is a better, earthier film that shows a great deal of talent and style by its
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery and Jacobs’s scene-by-scene recreation
certainly flatters. The remake is appealing in its imitation and will help, hopefully, make Bielinsky
recognized as a potent filmmaking force. I recommend “Nine Queens” to the more experimental filmgoer but
that’s not to say that “Criminal” is not worthwhile.
John C. Reilly has always been a favorite character actor and his portrayal of con artist Richard Gaddis
puts another notch in his belt of fine performances. Richard is ambitious, outwardly prosperous and
desperately looking for the big con. After he rescues Rodrigo, Gaddis is presented with a one-time deal by
old forger, Ochoa (Zito Kazzan), who has toiled for over a year on the duplication of a rare American
currency note. International entrepreneur William Harrigan (Peter Mullan), an avid collector of rare
monies, must leave the country and is a prime candidate to foist the fake bank note on.
This who-is-conning-whom film uses a flashy premise, gritty dialogue and a gang of good performers to make
it a worthy imitator of its source material. Reilly does a fine job as a career con artist and mentor to
Rodrigo while never giving up the opportunity to pull off yet another scam, no matter how minor the gain -
at one point he randomly selects a kindly old woman as his impromptu victim. Diego Luna (he is an awfully
cute little guy) is suitably aw-shucks charismatic as the very likable Rodrigo.
Supporting cast is minimal but does a decent job of reprising the “Nine Queens” characters. Maggie
Gyllenhaal, as Richard’s put upon sister, Valerie – he is trying to con her and younger brother Michael
(Jonathan Tucker) out of their rightful inheritance – does a deft job of showing both mistrust and filial
loyalty to her older sibling. Peter Mullan lends an appropriately moneyed arrogance as the wealthy,
self-indulgent financier, Harrigan. Jonathan Tucker is almost vacuous as the innocent naïf, Michael.
Veteran cinematographer Chris Menges lends his experienced hand with his fast-paced, fluid
photography, giving the film a docudrama you-are-there feel. Costume (Jeffrey Kurland) and production design
(Philip Messina) are subtle and well done.
I have to give “Nine Hearts” the edge but “Criminal” is an honest remake of its source material. I give it
Laura gives "Criminal" a B-.
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