Criminal is the new film from Israeli Director Ariel Vromen, who showed promise with his previous effort The Iceman.
Criminal begins with C.I.A. agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) being pursued around crowded London streets by a bunch of sinister anarchists. Pope is maimed badly and his, prone to fits of shouting ridiculously named boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) needs to extract Pope’s memories in order to complete a deal with a rogue computer programmer. Enter the bored looking Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), who has the wherewithal to extract memories from rats and implant them into other rats and is pretty sure he can do the same for humans. The suitable candidate he has in mind for the first human trial is the psychopathic criminal Jericho Stewart, whose frontal lobe deficiency puts him to the front of the list of human candidates. After the procedure is carried out, the C.I.A., who seem to be controlling all intelligence matters in London, hope to track down a man known as The Dutchman (Michael Pitt) from Pope’s transplanted memory. So far, so stupid.
This film reminded me of a very poor Keanu Reeves film with another particularly dumb title called Johnny Mnemonic and John Woo’s Face/Off. There is nothing especially new about this story. If you are willing to accept the memory swap scenario and go with it, you will find that this is quite an enjoyable ride.
Kevin Costner can be a mixed bag. When he’s good, he can be very good and when he is bad he can be horrid. His performance here flits between both of those poles. It reminded me of his role in A Perfect World, when he played a conflicted escaped criminal. Costner can still cut it as an action man, despite his advancing years. There are moments where he doles out quite savage violence, which is slowly balanced out by the encroaching personality of the decent man whose memories have been imposed upon him.
The action flits around London in a very Bourne or to a lesser extent Spooks, like fashion. The action sequences are quite impressive and inventive for a film that looks like it has used its relatively small budget quite efficiently. Costner is still a charismatic screen presence, even when he beats up four men after stealing a kebab, or poleaxing a hipster in an upmarket coffee shop. The locations used around London look fresh and not as typical as what this type of fare usually offers. The grey blue palette of the film works well in creating a suitable atmosphere for events to unfold. The soundtrack by Brian Tyler punctuates the pacey action in an exciting way.
The thing that attracted me to this film initially was the impressive cast. Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Alice Eve and Michael Pitt are all sadly underused or just wasted. Ryan Reynolds is in the film for about 10 minutes, but is good value while on-screen. Gal Gadot, who recently starred as Wonderwoman, plays Pope’s glamorous wife who does not seem to be grieving too hard. She is impressive and very alluring in an underwritten role.
Gary Oldman shouts a lot while trying to extract intel out of Costner’s likeable psycho. Oldman has not hammed it up this much in years. His hyperactive character is very much the antithesis of George Smiley. Tommy Lee Jones looks rather disinterested throughout. Perhaps it is because he is playing third banana in a film he would have probably headlined 20 years ago. His presence does lend a sense of gravitas to proceedings nonetheless.
Dumb as this film is, I found myself enjoying it very much. If you leave your brain at the cinema door and wilfully suspend your disbelief, there is much to revel in here.
On general release now.