Experienced con artist Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) notices Rodrigo (Diego Luna) working the waitresses at a local casino, and recruits. Rodrigo agrees to a partnership for a day in order to make some quick cash to help his father with his large gambling debts. Richard's sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who works at a swanky hotel, rings and tells him another con-man acquaintance had collapsed in the hotel, and was asking for him. He had apparently been trying to see Irish multi-millionaire William Hannigan (Peter Mullan), a guest. There's no love lost between Valerie and Richard; Richard has recently cheated both her and younger brother Michael (Jonathan Tucker) out of their inheritance. But when Richard and Rodrigo arrive at the hotel, a con opportunity of a lifetime presents itself.
Review by Louise Keller:
Criminal is so full of swindles and cons, you never see the next one coming. And nothing will prepare you for the final con, which comes when you least expect it. It's reassuring to see such an excellent Hollywood remake of the multi-award winning Argentinean heist movie Nine Queens; so many good films get lost in translation. The key to its success is the casting of Mexican actor Diego Luna, whose ethnicity helps ensure a link with the mood of the original. It's a mystery, though, why the central plot item involving priceless stamps known as Nine Queens has been replaced by one featuring a rare antique bank note. The original title was far more compelling.
On its own terms, the film's credentials are immaculate and the casting perfect. The screenplay was written by first time director Gregory Jacobs with Stephen Soderbergh, who also produced the film with Jacobs and George Clooney. It's fast-paced and entertaining with Jacobs' assured and unobtrusive direction involving us in the action, daring us to become part of the scams. And there are plenty.
When we first see Diego Luna's Rodrigo, his face is in shadow, with the blazing Los Angeles sunshine behind him. Then the camera changes its perspective and we follow him into the suburban casino, where he is about to swindle a few bucks from a couple of unsuspecting waitresses. It takes a conman to recognise another conman, and John C. Reilly's Richard Gaddis spots him straight away. Richard is a slippery operator, telling Rodrigo to 'watch and learn', which the young Mexican does.... quickly.
We learn quickly too.... That nothing is what it seems and no-one is who they appear to be. We are thrown off balance again and again, as one con leads into the next. There's the restaurant con with the ripped hundred dollar note, the grandmother targeted via an apartment block intercom, the Beverly Hills woman with the handbag.... Then at the hotel where Richard's sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works, the chance for the con of a lifetime. The ingredients comprise an expert forger, a unique bank note and multi-millionaire antique currency collector William Hannigan (Peter Mullan), who has a pocket full of money and a pressing tax problem forcing him to leave the country within 24 hours.
All the action takes place during one single day, and the tension mounts steadily. The stakes climb higher and higher, and suddenly there is a queue of takers waiting for their own percentage. Then the demands cross the line, and it becomes personal. I felt myself wriggling in my seat to counter my discomfort.
Criminal is replete with surprises, and while it may not have the voracious bite of the original, it comes close.
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CAST: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann, Jonathan Tucker, Laura Cerón
PRODUCER: George Clooney, Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh
DIRECTOR: Gregory Jacobs
SCRIPT: Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh (Fabián Bielinsky - film Nueve reinas)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Chris Menges
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione
MUSIC: Alex Wurman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2005