Two grifters - boyish, likable Rodrigo and the scheming, cynical Richard - meet by chance. Richard, who has cheated everyone he knows, including his siblings, is missing his partner, so he offers Rodrigo a job for a day. Rodrigo accepts because he has some savings, but needs more to pay his father's gambling debts. Richard gets a call when an aging, ill ex-associate needs help to sell a forged treasury note to a businessman whose visa is expiring the next day, a wealthy man who sees a chance to turn a quick profit buying what he thinks is a stolen document. When the con men have to improvise, Richard asks Rodrigo to use his savings to set up the deal. Is Rodrigo being conned? Written by
A Big Bravo! for this California Transplant from Argentina!
As one of the many foreign film devotees who rank writer Fabián Bielinsky's 2000 film NUEVE REINAS from Argentina as one of the best caper films ever, I was completely satisfied with the 'American made version' CRIMINAL. Bielinsky co-wrote this screenplay with director Gregory Jacobs and the result is a terse, witty, fascinating, intelligent film that deserves 5 stars in every category.
Transposing the story (which takes place in one day) to Los Angeles opens up even more avenues of social comment than the original. The use of the various areas of LA that span from the wealth of Beverly Hills to the grandeur of the downtown Biltmore Hotel to the scruffy East LA neighborhoods and other underbellies of Sun City truly match the flow of the story.
Smarmy Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) is a small time crook who has experienced every aspect of con games. He dresses like a businessman, drives a Mercedes, and believes that if you're going to con the wealth out of money (which he does without conscience), you must look professional. He observes Rodrigo (Diego Luna) in a cafe doing some very minor con games and when Rodrigo is apparently 'caught', Richard acts the part of a vice officer and saves Rodrigo from being arrested. Here begins their partnership: Richard needs a sideman to assist in an important grifter scheme involving selling a valuable money bill (instead of the stamps with nine queens of the original); Rodrigo (who Richard re-names Brian to Anglicize him so he won't appear a Cholo) needs big money to pay off his father's gambling debt. Through a series of introductory can games they learn to 'trust' each other and the big game begins.
The fast and furious process of the big grift flows with many incidents that are clever, convincingly intriguing, and introduces many characters in its path, each of whom plays a more major role than anyone would expect... Maggie Gylenhaal as Richard's sister Valerie (concierge at the Biltmore) is pulled in unwillingly only after she forces a 'truth session' involving Richard's cheating on their inheritance in front of their brother Michael (Jonathan Tucker), the original forger of the bill Ochoa (Zitto Kazaan), the hit who buys the bill Hannigan (Peter Muller), and all of the apparent bit people in the scheme are superb.
Throughout the story Rodrigo/Brian is portrayed as warm, lovable smalltime beginner, though always ready with a clever intervention, and Richard is the know-it-all conflicted 'boss'. How this relationship mutates is just plain fine writing and acting and the ending of the film is a terrific surprise even to those who know NUEVE REINAS well! Reilly and Luna are perfect choices for these multifaceted roles. Highly Recommended!
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