Who's Scamming Who?

Criminal is a caper film of deception and intrigue

By Ramona Gonzalez
Published on LatinoLA: September 13, 2004

Who's Scamming Who?

"Criminal" is about a day in the life of two con-artists, veteran Richard and novice Rodrigo, whose paths cross in a Los Angeles casino. The events that ensue bring them to the biggest swindle either one of them has ever pulled, so big that Richard?s sister and brother are dragged into the deal. The story follows them throughout LA from BH to BH (Beverly Hills to Boyle Heights) as they embark on swindle after swindle and the con gets bigger and bigger, which eventually begs the question, who?s scamming whom?

Criminal is a caper film along the lines of Davis Mamet?s The Spanish Prisoner as far as the layers of deception and intrigue that flow in the story. Criminal presents the story a certain way initially but throughout the film gives the audience cause to second guess every character?s motives. Each has something to conceal and everyone?s got an angle. Criminal does its job of keeping up the suspense, building the stakes, keeping the pace flowing. While some of the plot twists kind of let you know they?re coming, they pique enough interest to stay the course and see where it goes next. Every time one of the characters seems pinned down and figured out, they do something to keep the audience guessing.

Race and class were introduced in this film without big flashing lights and arrows stating, ?This is about race and class in Los Angeles.? Those issues were weaved into the dialogue and character?s interactions with each other. Most of the time when race and/or class are involved in a film, the entire film centers on those issues and tend to make the white protagonist the most progressive element in the film. Because Criminal is not about race primarily but about deception and con artists, the race and class element become part of the scam in a way. While the film may not be the perfect depiction of people of color (if, in fact, there is one), it plays with the idea of stereotypes, both for the characters in the film and the audience.

The city of Los Angeles, as a character and location, was represented more fully and diverse than in most other films. It was a new thing to see a director have that much respect for the city and its inhabitants to show Los Angeles as multicultural as opposed to full of blondes in bikinis at the beach. There was none of that in this film.

Diego Luna plays Rodrigo, a young hustler with a sweet face who, in Richard?s own words, ?looks like a nice guy?. He plays the wide-eyed na?ve novice so well it was almost irritating. His sweetness is endearing and kind of makes Rodrigo look out of place in this whole caper. His motives compared with Richard?s are understandable and kind of set him up to be taken advantage of. He definitely holds his own with John C. Reilly and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Hopefully this film will ease his crossover to US films.

In all, Criminal is a good story; the actors work well with each other and do well on their own. Personally, it is worth the price of admission to see Los Angeles?s many colors shine.

For more info on Criminal go to http://wip.warnerbros.com/criminal/
For more information on Nueve Reinas go to http://imdb.com/title/tt0247586/

Criminal - A new film by first time director Gregory Jacobs. Based on the Argentinean film ?Nueve Reinas? (2000) by writer director Fabian Bielinsky
Director: George Jacobs
Writer: George Jacobs based on the screenplay by Fabian Bielinsky
Starring: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal

About Ramona Gonzalez:
Review by: RP Gonzales - rapgonzales@yahoo.com

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