CRIMINAL –  2016 MOVIE REVIEW

Steve reviews an overlooked SF action movie from 2016. He finds it surprisingly good, with an all-star cast. Why did he overlook it? Who knows; maybe it was the movie poster.

Figure 1 – Criminal Poster

The poster in Figure 1 is not the poster I saw; had I seen all the names attached, I would have looked closer. I really thought the central face was Eddie Marsan, not Kevin Costner; I didn’t look any farther. Silly me. (As you probably know, Marsan played Inspector Lestrade in the Robert Downey Jr./Guy Ritchie films. I doubted he’d be enough to carry a whole film.) But looking through a list of SF films of the last decade or so, I discovered that either we (I and my wife, the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk) had seen the movies, or we had decided that for one reason or another we weren’t interested. That’s a lot of movies over ten years! I decided to look closer at the ones we’d decided against, finding this one.

First off, the leading cast intrigued me: the aforementioned Costner, plus Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot—and those are just the major actors; there are several well-known secondary actors, like Scott Adkins (action film star) and Amaury Nolasco (Sucre on Prison Break). Hmm; maybe I dismissed this too early, since it is an action/SF film without major CGI! (A rarity.)

Reynolds plays Bill/Billy Pope, a CIA agent, who’s in touch with a hacker named Jan Strook—”the Dutchman“— (Michael Pitt), who was commissioned by an anarchist Spanish industrialist named Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà) who’s on the run from the law because he has attempted to have the Spanish President and other high officials assassinated—are you with me so far?—to build an app/program called The Wormhole, which will allow its user to control all nuclear weapons on the planet. How’s that for confusing? Let me simplify: Heimdahl wants the Dutchman’s app so he can blow shit up all over the world; he thinks we’d all be better off without controllers, either politicians or big corporations. The CIA group in London, led by Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) wants to capture the Dutchman before he gets Wormhole to Heimdahl. Pope (Reynolds) has made a deal with the Dutchman for cash and a passport in exchange for Wormhole.

Figure 2 – Gary Oldman as Quaker Wells, CIA

Meanwhile, across the pond, Doctor Micah Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) has come up with a way to copy brain contents—memory, knowledge, etc.—between rat brains. A rat given this treatment can go straight through a maze it’s never seen. (Hang on to that thought.)

Back in Europe, Pope (Reynolds), with the bag full of money/passport for the Dutchman, is being tracked by both CIA and Heimdahl, who appears to be a major hacker himself. Pope has told the Dutchman where to hide, and sets up a meet—but he’s forced to stash the bag and attempt to get the Dutchman out of hiding. His cab’s GPS is hijacked/hacked by Heimdahl on the way to the meet, and Pope is tortured to death by Heimdahl and his female henchperson/lover, Elsa Mueller (Antje Traue), in an attempt to learn where the Dutchman and Wormhole are. His body is retrieved by the CIA.

Figure 3 – Kevin Costner as Jericho

Since the CIA has its fingers in many pies, including Doctor Franks’s research, Wells (Oldman) figures to transfer Pope’s brain contents to a man named Jericho (Costner), who has an undeveloped frontal lobe, leading him to be a bad man who has no emotions, no concept of society or its restrictions, and who, until thrown into prison, takes what he wants without any idea of or regard to consequences. Jericho, Dr. Franks, and the equipment are brought to London from the US. They copy what they can to Jericho’s brain, but he remains Jericho, and escapes. The brain transfer was incomplete, but he gets flashes of Pope’s past (including Pope’s family) and he brutally beats up some people, steals a truck, and goes to Pope’s house, entering without setting off the alarm—he knows the code. He goes upstairs and duct tapes Pope’s wife, Jill (Gal Gadot), tries to find the bag with the money—she has no idea—and steals what he can and leaves without waking their daughter, Emma. (Jericho knows about the bag of money, but he has only flashes of where Pope hid it.)

Figure 4 – Pope’s wife (Gadot) and child

The rest of the movie is Jericho trying to find the money; Wells trying to find Jericho to find where he hid the Dutchman (who, not knowing Pope is dead, thinks Pope betrayed him and tries to make a deal on his own with Heimdahl), Heimdahl hacking into all the cameras in London and the CIA’s own network to try to find the Dutchman, Dr. Franks saying that the memory implant may not last past 48 hours unless he does some kind of treatment, etc.; and Jericho, with emotion he’s never experienced before in his life, getting closer to Pope’s family.

Now, I’ve never thought Costner was much of an actor—competent, but nothing exciting, whether playing a soldier (Dances With Wolves), a post-apocalyptic survivor (Waterworld and The Postman), a baseball player (Field of Dreams), or an FBI agent (The Untouchables). He never really seemed invested in his role, at least to me. But in this movie, he seems to have pulled out all the stops and become Jericho, with all that involves. Whether the original, brutish and brutal Jericho, or the later, emotionally-involved Jericho/Pope, he brought gravitas to the character. (I feel it’s akin to how different Nic Cage is in his usual movie roles from how he is in Pig.) Frankly, he impressed the heck out of me. The rest do their usual good job, with a little deeper performance from Gadot, and Oldman chewing a lot of scenery—not to mention the menacing psycho performance of Mollà as Heimdahl.

Lynne noticed before I did that in part, this is a riff on Daniel KeyesFlowers For Algernon (or the movie version, Charly, with Cliff Robertson), which is true. There are a lot of commonalities. Without giving away too much, I will say that I was disappointed with the ending. Where Flowers for Algernon was true to itself, Criminal wussied out with what I consider a kind of tacked-on happyish ending. But I will say no more for fear of spoilers—because if you missed this one, like I did, I will say that it tried to be true to its SF roots and not tart it up with a bunch of irrelevant and impossible stuff. (Who knows whether this might be possible in the future? That’s what makes it SF, IMO.) I liked it. If you can find it, watch it.

Anything to say about this? You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments, or discussions, or even digressions—are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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