“You don’t remember me but I remember you.”
Kevin Costner stars as a grisly voiced, ill-tempered convict named Jericho Stewart who becomes a cerebral vessel for important information from Bill Pope, an FBI agent played by Ryan Reynolds (Safehouse, Self/Less).
Audiences can expect primal actions from the volatile and unique Jericho who becomes gets Bill’s memories, secrets and skills implanted into his brain through a complex procedure. Filmmakers present the information well as audiences encounter believable scenarios that almost speak for themselves.
Why go to these lengths? The world’s nuclear defense codes are at stake.
Why choose Jericho? His tragic childhood brain trauma produced an underdeveloped frontal lobe, which makes him a prime candidate for this unique procedure.
Filmmakers make the first point well known, but the second comes clear after some key dialogue between Jericho and Dr. Franks, played by Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), who supplies necessary credibility as the foremost expert in this procedure.
This well established, recognizable cast anchors the plot for audiences as the impressive performances enhance the decent character development.
Costner definitely has the animal-like demeanor, but also reflects tenacious survival point-of-view, which eventually morphs into becoming someone you can count on among these extreme circumstances.
“You hurt me… I hurt you worse,” Jericho says. Pitch perfect dialogue for a character who lived in a world where everyone was out to hurt him. Visual flashbacks would have been helpful here, but the simple dialogue makes the point almost as well.
Jericho uses his newly found skills and abilities to his advantage for power and, at times, his own self-indulgence. “I know stuff,” he says to a surprised character. Eventually this knowledge saturates into an emotional healing process that heals the void left by his underdeveloped brain. “I wish I could keep being him,” Jericho says.
Gary Oldman (Dark Knight film trilogy) plays Quaker Wells, Bill’s CIA supervisor. He is skeptical of Dr. Franks’ work. “You wanted to use a death row inmate instead of a Seal Team Leader,” Quaker says to Dr. Franks.
Quaker’s pursuits border fanaticism which reflects poor characters even though his “greater good” intentions are well meaning.
Gal Gadot (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) plays Bill’s wife Jill and Lara Decaro makes an impressive feature film debut as Bill’s daughter Emma.
Jordi Mollà (Knight and Day) plays the antagonist Xavier Heimdahl who is an industrialist-turned-anarchist who has a “better way to run this world” that involves destroying the entire existing infrastructure. Audiences get a few somewhat humorous glimpses into his motives along with rare and somewhat amusing asides like “Children never live up to their hype.”
Jan Stroop (a.k.a. “The Dutchman”) also factors into the plot and is played by Michael Pitt (TV’s Hannibal) who must go to extreme lengths to ensure his own safety.
Scott Adkins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) plays Quaker’s teammate Pete while Antje Traue (Man of Steel) impresses as Xavier’s teammate Elsa. Both actors boost their credible performances as they show their talents among the believable situations. Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Amaury Nolasco (TV’s Prison Break, Max Payne) also play teammates on Quaker’s team.
Directed by Ariel Vromen (The Iceman) and filmed exclusively in England, Criminal makes a great entry in the action genre. Filmmakers impress with steady camerawork and credible action on a very low budget (estimated 35 million). They position the camera away from some violent scenes, but the sounds and results still pack emotional weight that can have a noticeable psychological effect on audiences.
The most troubling scene is when one character cheers a police car crash (and the assumed fatality of the driver), but this instance makes sense due to this character’s state of mind, which was explained early in the film.
The screenwriting team behind The Rock and Double Jeopardy take on the action-thriller screenplay. Douglas Cook and David Weisberg never get too deep into details and explain complex occurrences with visuals and memorable dialogue. They also demonstrate how people take technology for granted. Characters perform multiple “hacks” to manipulate situations so much of the action launches from one person at a laptop.
These screenwriters read audiences well by anticipating reactions like Quaker’s tactical adjustments later in the film to Xavier’s attacks. It’s easy for the audience to find fault in Quaker since they know all the information, but very rewarding to see him correct his mistakes – a rarity in most action genre entries.
Other action genre clichés (e.g. leaving vulnerable characters unprotected) definitely evoke emotional reactions, but then morph into plausible actions as the audience eventually get that “ah ha” moment as they understand the logistics and larger stakes at play. It’s an effective, non-manipulative approach that keeps the audience focused on the true character that the cast portrays well.
The framework stays simple, so audiences can focus on some decent character development (mostly Jericho), action sequences, and unpredictable turns (one key sequence at the end is unfortunately spoiled in this film’s previews). Complex procedures are explained in phrases (e.g. “subconscious routines” from Dr. Franks) while the point-of-view changes with great effect (e.g. Jericho’s explanation of his situation to Jill).
The outstanding stunt work enhances the realism as even bystanders factor into the action sequences. In this action-filled framework, filmmakers even have characters like Jill commenting telling others to stop. The audience gets a great sense of how the considerable violence affects these characters. Even Xavier tells his henchman to stop hitting another character.
Keith Power & Brian Tyler provide a decent musical score with support from strong songs from Madsonik featuring Lola Marsh (“Drift and Fall Again”) while filmmakers use sound well within the plot constructs (e.g. a bell ring sound that’s similar to the pain Jericho experiences in his head)
A solid, emotional experience that focuses on the characters and their actions instead of scenarios that envelope the characters. This people-focused pleaser has a redeeming ending (possible sequel?) that definitely prompts audience reaction and deserves a good look after an underperforming box office debut among a highly competitive premiere weekend.
Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for strong violence and language throughout with a one hour and 53 minute running time. Do not watch the previews or any clips before you see this film, which spoil some key story lines/elements.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler