Friday, September 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Trio steals the show in "Criminal"

Seattle Times movie critic

Directors of heist movies must become sleight-of-hand artists, showing us only what they want us to see, and making sure that we're having such a good time, we don't notice the turned-down corner that holds the key to the card trick.

Gregory Jacobs' "Criminal" isn't the best, but it offers many of these pleasures — as well as three appealing actors.

"Criminal" is essentially the 2002 Argentinian thriller "Nine Queens," translated into English (in many scenes, the dialogue is identical) and moved north to Los Angeles. While a few plot points have been changed — most notably, the heist now centers on an ancient currency certificate, rather than a rare sheet of stamps — the biggest difference is in the interpretation of the film's lead role. In the original, Ricardo Darín played Marcos, an experienced con man who teams up with a young grifter when an unexpected opportunity arises. Darín's Marcos is all feline elegance; he's the very picture of a smooth operator.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Criminal," with John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker. Directed by Gregory Jacobs, from a screenplay by Jacobs and Sam Lowry, based on the Argentinian film "Nine Queens" by Fabián Bielinsky. 87 minutes. Rated R for language. Metro, Meridian.

John C. Reilly, on the other hand, is the man he so perfectly played in "Chicago": Mr. Cellophane ('cause you can look right through him, walk right by him, not even know he's there). A splendid character actor, rather than a leading man, he's got a regular-Joe face and a slightly nasal whine of a voice. Even decked out in the elegant suits of his character (renamed Richard for the American version), he's someone you could overlook, and he plays Richard as a man who scrabbles through life, rather than gliding. (Passing by a bank of pay phones, he can't resist checking for change.)

Reilly's casting throws off the film a little bit — Richard's stated reason for hooking up with the kid (here named Rodrigo and played by Diego Luna) is because he needs someone to offset him, who doesn't look like an operator. This makes little sense, but the two actors are appealing together, bickering as they stroll the streets of L.A. scamming people for a few bucks.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Richard's sister Valerie (who despises her brother and his work) fills out the trio. Like Reilly, she's an unlikely movie star — she's all quirk and curlicues, from her comma-shaped hairdo to her curly smile and trademark slouch. But her screen work has a bracingly fresh quality — everything she does is unexpected, and she becomes the movie's wild card.

"Criminal" doesn't require a rocket scientist to figure out its twists — watch closely and you might just guess what's going on. Then again, maybe you won't. And then again, maybe watching Reilly, Luna and Gyllenhaal is quite enough entertainment value for any movie. Listen as Richard explains to Rodrigo, in sanctimonious tones, that he's not ripping him off on this deal — "because it would be wrong." He sounds believable, but you might want to hold on to your purse.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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