Whoever is in charge of marketing for this movie needs to be fired! This movie was a pretty enjoyable experience, but it’s not getting a whole lot of attention. I literally hadn’t even heard of Criminal until the passes showed up in my inbox, and the description of it wasn’t particularly enticing because it didn’t seem very original. I pretty much only went because I didn’t want to deal with my house situation, procrastinating the inevitable one more day…
Usually, for advanced screenings, there’s such a long line that you have to arrive a good 3 hours before the screening starts to get a decent seat. Marketing has been so bad for this movie, that I showed up only an hour before it started and was able to get a prime spot in the center of a row. Not just one seat, but two!
If people knew how enjoyable this movie can be, the line would have been much, much longer!
Criminal has some of the intellectual suspense found in a Bourne movie. It had my attention within 3 minutes, and the suspense and action never really let up. The cast is chosen amazingly well: well seasoned male actors like Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Oldman, alongside some fresher feminine faces, like Gal Gadot (the new Wonder Woman) and Alice Eve.
I suppose you might say it is a Bourne style movie for the older generation, actually. The choice of actors kind of gives that impression. Particularly since Ryan Reynolds, considered by my age group to be a fairly big name actor (especially since Deadpool came out), isn’t hardly mentioned even though he gets about as much, if not slightly more screen time than either Tommy Lee Jones or Alice Eve, who are both given top billing in the marketing.
See how Alice Eve’s name is on the poster? Her character could have been totally cut and it wouldn’t have hurt the movie at all…
So the premise of the story is thus: Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent who was killed after he hid something (and someone) that is vital for the CIA to find. To find it, they get Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to put Pope’s memories into the head of sociopath Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), but Pope’s boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) is too impatient to let the procedure really take hold and Jericho gets loose. Meanwhile, as Jericho struggles to balance his own nature with Pope’s memories and emotions, he ends up going after the very thing the CIA was searching for, and the reason they put Pope in his head in the first place. Thus he ends up with the CIA trying to capture him while he is simultaneously being hunted by the terrorist group that killed him in the first place.
Gal Gadot plays Pope’s wife, Jill. It is her character and her daughter that are the keys to Jericho’s success or failure to completing Pope’s original mission.
Now, when I watched it last night, my initial reaction was to applaud. I was the first one to clap, and I was very, very pleased with the movie! Kevin Costner made for a great psychopath (or sociopath… whichever one doesn’t feel any remorse), and as Pope’s memories, skills, and emotions mingle with his, watching the character develop morals is really exciting. It’s easily one of the best performances I think I’ve ever seen Costner give.
Gal Gadot, of course, is amazing! She’s sexy and strong, though for a moment I was afraid they had made her just a damsel in distress type character. Don’t get me wrong, there are several times when she does in fact play the damsel in distress, but there are also times when she grows a backbone and protects her child.
My biggest issue with her? For a woman who just lost her husband, she seems to bounce back fairly well… maybe too well. Like it is briefly hinted at that Costner’s character might just suddenly become a part of the family.
Like, even though he looks nothing like her husband, and thinks nothing of beating people to death on a pretty regular basis (among other gruesome ways to murder people), the thought of him having her husband’s memories and emotions is enough for her to let him take over cooking the waffles for their chicken and waffles Sunday dinner tradition.
Her husband hadn’t been dead a week yet…
That’s a stretch for me.
And unfortunately, not the biggest one.
Like I said, I was the first to clap when the movie was over, but as I reflected on it to write this review, I became aware that there are some serious issues with the character choices! And even as I’m in the middle of writing it now, I have rewritten the beginning several times to reflect my rapidly deteriorating view of this movie on an intellectual basis.
As an action flick that takes you on both an emotional and an intellectual ride, this movie is amazing! But the characters don’t hold up to scrutiny. Let’s take Tommy Lee Jones’ character, for instance.
I’m about to type something that actually pains me, but Tommy Lee Jones is probably the weakest link in this film. His character, Dr. Franks, is so contrary to anything he’s ever done that it is almost painful to watch, and similar to Gadot’s character, he’s not given enough screen time to really make him a solid character. Why has he been doing research about transferring memories? What are the ethical ramifications of such a thing? And is his conscience the reason why he seems to be perpetually sad throughout this movie?
He always looks like he’s on the verge of crying, and a crying Tommy Lee Jones would have killed this movie. You take a strong person and make him play a weak character, and it comes off wrong if you don’t give him any proper motivation. There’s great potential to make him a modern day Dr. Frankenstein, to make this a true morality tale. Instead, he’s just a sad pushover of a man who happens to be a scientific genius of some sort.
At the other end of the spectrum is Gary Oldman’s character, Quaker Wells (don’t get me started on that name), who seems unnecessarily stand offish and a little impulsive. If he actually ran anything in the CIA it would be like Keystone Kops took over the government!
Of course there would have been no movie if he hadn’t been so impulsive. It was his impulsive nature that allowed Jericho to escape in the first place. There were several other times where he didn’t seem to be thinking things through very well… or at all. Like the scene that gets one of the other “big name” actors’ character killed.
Speaking of, there are an awful lot of characters in this film, and some of the female ones feel like they were only added to try to help this movie pass the Bechdel test, which it doesn’t do.
Alice Eve’s character could be cut, and there’d be no change in the film’s themes or plot because, like the others, she’s not a fully developed character.
Same with the evil Elsa (Antje Traue), who is the main tracker or gunslinger for the villain, and apparently also his love interest or something. She’s a cool kick ass woman, but, again, a totally flat character.
In fact, basically all the characters get second shrift except Kevin Costner! And since we’re primarily following him, the actual watching of the film is very enjoyable and worth watching… just don’t think too hard about the film when you’re done.
It’s one that passes my date worthiness test because you can seriously discuss the ethical ramifications of putting a person’s consciousness into someone else (even though it isn’t particularly explored in the film). Or you can simply discuss the awesome way Costner’s character functions and evolves. Or you can just enjoy the action; there’s plenty of it!
And while there’s a hint of a love story between Jill Pope and her husband (and his new body…ish), it’s not overdone, so it allows you to have that romantic feel good vibe without having to deal with superfluous face sucking or gratuitous sex.
Final verdict: Go into the theater understanding that it’s kind of a one man show with extra people in it because Costner’s character is the only one that grows. Enjoy the action, because it’s plenty. Look for the plot twists and surprises because there are plenty of those, too. Just don’t overthink the characters… It was the closest I’ve come to a truly intellectual action movie in a long time, and I will probably go watch it again… so long as I don’t think about it too much.