Monday, December 11, 2017

Criminal: Not a Fun Spy Romp, But Great Character Depth and Plot Complexity

Movie Review: Criminal (2016)
Version: Library borrow

What starts off with a small role for Ryan Reynolds opens the door for a huge role for Kevin Costner in 2016's Criminal, a gruff yet thoughtful action thriller set in the gritty streets of London.

The pace sets quickly with Bill Pope (played by Reynolds) chasing down leads on a shadowy hacker with nuclear launch codes to sell, driving through the streets of London and gunning down bad guys. But he quickly reaches his end in an empty warehouse, where he is brutally tortured for the information he has and then left for dead. Britain's MI6 and the CIA rescue him and keep in alive long enough for Dr. Franks (played by the stoic Tommy Lee Jones) to transfer his memory to an agent who can act on his leads. But the CIA doesn't want to try this untested technology on just any human. They reach out for someone expendable, someone who would be no loss if things got ugly, turned deadly. Jericho (played by Costner) is a dangerous convict with no emotional connection to others, a killer without remorse, basically an animal who is chained to the center of a cell to keep him away from any other human contact. The CIA's Quaker Wells (played explosively by Gary Oldman) has him transferred to London, where the technology is brutally applied to Jericho's mind, and he is set free to fund the hacker "The Dutchman" (played by Michael Pitt). Little by little, Pope's memories filter into Jericho's mind, giving him clues where to find The Dutchman and a bag of money promised to him. It also exposes Jericho to Pope's memories of his wife Jill (played by Gal Gadot) and his daughter Emma (played by Lara Decaro), and where they live. The hunt is on, and so is a slow evolution of Jericho from desperate killer to loving husband and father in search of redemption and saving the world from the threat of bad guys who want access to American nuclear launch codes.

This isn't your usual spy thriller nor your normal action film. It starts out fast and furious like a typical spy film, then settles back to an earthy, gritty, dark, and dank deep-state conspiracy sci-fi pic, only to evolve again into a human-interest story about a man fighting for his identity and his soul while being pursued by people on all sides obsessed with hunting down a guy with secrets to sell. Caught in the middle is the mother and her daughter, engaged with a dangerous man with hints of the husband and father they think is dead yet can only slowly hope live inside another man they really don't know.

Kevin Costner often plays very thoughtful characters and he brings that sensitivity to this otherwise unseemly role. He is violent, careless, intruding, and self-absorbed on the one had, while on the other you can see the wheels turning in his mind as the Pope character begins to influence Jericho's persona. And this makes the film a multidimensional experience, giving you hope for the character as you follow his progress through his seemingly impossible mission. He has been severely wounded by the surgical procedure to force the technology on his, he has bad headaches, and you can't help but feel for Jericho. And Costner pulls off the role, probably not the kind of character he might have chosen to play earlier in his career, with precision and excellence.

It's a pity that Reynolds' role was so short, because he's becoming known more recently for taking on action films and he's pretty good in them. His role as Bill Pope is no exception. I would like to have seen him more in this film.

Gal Gadot also shines in her role as the frantic mother and grieving wife, not to mention the fearful hostage and then the hopeful cohort to Jericho.

Gary Oldman is the badass of bad guys, forcing Jericho to undergo the procedure and then releasing him to find The Dutchman, promise Jericho the hidden stash of cash if he finds The Dutchman, and then when he thinks MI6 has located The Dutchman, abandoning Jericho in the streets of London. These are the roles Oldman has become more recently familiar with, and he plays it deftly here.

So, while Criminal is not a fun romp as spy thrillers go, it is a good film for its depth of characters and complexity of plot. I'd recommend it for older teens and adults. It might be too violent for youngsters.

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