out of Five
Running time: 87
A straightforward remake, this pales in comparison to Nine Queens, but it’s enjoyable enough if you haven’t seen the original.
Argentine director Fabian Bielinsky had a huge arthouse hit in 2002 with his Mamet-inspired con artist flick Nine Queens; naturally, Hollywood took notice and this speedily-produced remake is the inevitable result. Criminal has a high pedigree (it’s produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh), but it remains a pale imitation of Nine Queens, though it’s still pretty enjoyable if you haven’t seen the original.
Nine Queens Remake
Criminal is directed by Gregory Jacobs, a long-time collaborator of Steven Soderbergh’s, both as producer and assistant director. It stars veteran character actor John C. Reilly in a rare leading role as seasoned con artist Richard Gaddis, who rescues a young small-time grifter named Rodrigo (Diego Luna) and offers to take him on as his partner for the day.
As the day progresses, the two men get wind of a lucrative scam involving a rare bank note and they decide to work together in order to fleece a wealthy businessman (Peter Mullan). However, they also need the help of Gaddis’ mistrustful sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and she seems less than keen to get involved.
As remakes go, Criminal is extremely faithful to Nine Queens, since almost every scene from the original film is repeated. Apart from transposing the action from Buenos Aires to L.A., the only changes involve slight alterations to the beginning and the climax, as well as swapping forged stamps for forged bank notes.
Unfortunately, whether or not you have seen the original film is going to have a direct impact on how much you get out of Criminal. For example, although Jacobs keeps things moving at a decent pace, it somehow lacks the breathlessness of Bielinsky’s version. Similarly, if you already know the story, you’re much less likely to get caught up in the action and are liable to spend your time either picking holes in the plot or making comparisons.
One such comparison is inevitable. Although it’s a treat to see Reilly in the lead, he’s horribly miscast here, particularly when compared to Ricardo Darin’s brilliantly saturnine performance in Nine Queens. The role of Gaddis requires someone charismatic and confident, someone whose ability to talk himself out of any situation is never in doubt; sadly, Reilly never quite pulls this off, always coming across as something of a loser. (When it comes to loveable onscreen losers, Reilly is second only to William H. Macy).
Having said that, Diego Luna is excellent as Rodrigo, although again, unlike his counterpart in Nine Queens, you always feel that he has something up his sleeve. There’s also strong support from The Lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Mullan is clearly enjoying himself much too much with his delightfully sleazy turn as the businessman.
In short, although Criminal loses a certain something in translation, it’s still an enjoyable con trick flick and works perfectly well in its own right. Worth seeing then, but nowhere near as good as Nine Queens. Rent the original if you possibly can.