A little independent movie that feels like it could have been a play, "Criminal" is actually a remake of the popular Argentinian film, "Nine Queens", with the remake being produced by Steven Soderberg and George Clooney's production company. The film starts off small and slow, with con artist Richard Giddis (John C. Reilly) spotting minor crook Rodrigo (Diego Luna) trying to pull off a scam in a run-down looking casino.
Pretending to be a cop, he pulls the younger man aside and offers him the opportunity to learn more about the scams that he's trying to pull off. The two start off small, but eventually learn about a businessman (Peter Mullen) carrying on a major deal soon. With Diego at his side and some hotel employee friends, Richard believes that he can pull off a good enough scam concerning a forged certificate to rid the businessman of $750,000. The only problem would be Richard's sister, Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhal), who works at the 4-star hotel as the concierge and would very much like to see her brother fail.
"Criminal" works the old "who's scamming who?" angle quite superbly. Although it's obvious that Richard is attempting to get the edge, Rodrigo also could certainly be less naive than he claims to be. There's also Gyllenhal, who is expert at playing a character who could easily have underlying motives. Mullen is also superb as the businessman, who is quietly intimidating.
I haven't seen the original film, but this remake is a fine work by first-time director Gregory Jacobs, who has served as the assistant director to Steven Soderberg on all of his films. The cinematography by Chris Menges ("The Good Thief") and editing by Stephen Mirrione (who has also worked with Soderberg on such films as "Traffic") give the film a feel to one of Soderberg's films. The film is straightforward and tight, as it has been edited down to a lean, fat-free 88 minutes.
It's a little film, fairly sparse in terms of sets and budget, but it works well. It's not terribly memorable or innovative, but the cast is very good and the picture maintained my interest throughout.
VIDEO: "Criminal" is presented in Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an excellent transfer, with only a couple of minor concerns. Sharpness and detail are stellar throughout the proceedings, as the picture appeared rock-solid and even showed a strong level of fine details.
The only thing that took away from the presentation was the presence of some minor edge enhancement that appeared at times. Aside from that the picture appeared clean: free of print flaws and any pixelation. Colors remained natural and vivid throughout, with very nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Criminal" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Warner Brothers. This is a very fine audio presentation, considering this is largely dialogue-driven material. Surrounds aren't engaged heavily, but they are put into play fairly often to provide nice ambience and other details. Dialogue remained crisp and clear, as did the minimal sound effects.
EXTRAS: The film's trailer and recommendations.
Final Thoughts: "Criminal" is a smart and entertaining con game with very good performances. It doesn't have a lot of potential for repeat viewing though, so I'd recommend it as a rental. The DVD provides very good audio/video quality, but very little in the way of supplements.
The Film ***