Criminal (2.5 of 4)

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Long time Hollywood assistant director Gregory Jacobs made his directing début in 2004 with this underrated gem known as Criminal.
Criminal tells the story of Rodrigo (or Brian), played by Diego Luna, a small time con man trying to save $75,000 for his father’s heart transplant. His personality is innocent and charming think of a Mexican Aladdin.

But Rodrigo isn’t the best con. Rodrigo heads to a Vegas casino to attempt a simple scam on a few waitresses. It works on one. He heads to the next table, this one is smarter, she starts yelling for security, he panics, she screams, police begin to walk up when–enter Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) an older, smarter, smoother con. He roll-plays as a cop and casually “arrests” Rodrigo. Once outside at Richard’s car, Richard explains that he’d like to take Rodrigo in as a partner for the day teach him some tricks and educate the young criminal on proper lying.

So the two team up and meander around Vegas grifting whoever they can. $100 here $300 there diamond ring over there. Until they catch up to an old friend of Richard who has a counterfeit bill of one of the most valuable bills the US Treasury Department has ever printed. Now for the big swindle–sell it to a money collector for $750,000.

For the movie’s next 45 minutes the story, acting, direction are great. It looks and feels not only believable (like all good con-man movies need to) but also important. The stakes continue to get higher and higher as your trust of the characters rises and falls.

What most impressed me about the movie was John C. Reilly. See, I thought he was just a clown, but the man can act. There is an incredible dialogue shootout between Luna and Reilly, as I watched it I was thinking–but that’s the guy from Walk Hard! It’s so good I couldn’t believe who I was watching.

The pacing and direction are excellent. Jacobs’  first movie as director proves he had a hand in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11,12, and 13 films. His execution is smooth, the transitions are invisible and the acting (verbal and non-verbal) is well-covered. Sadly, Jacobs also tried to do too much and literally ruins his movie in the last 3 minutes. I liked this movie, but goodness gracious the twist at the end, if you can call it that, is horrendous!

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