Okay, seriously, did anyone look at this film and think to themselves, “reverse SELF/LESS”? Tell me I’m wrong! SELF/LESS was about an older man getting a mind transplant into a younger man, starring Ryan Reynolds as the lead with Ben Kingsley having an insultingly small role, and this movie is about a mind transplant from a younger man to an older man, starring Kevin Costner as the lead with Reynolds as the insultingly brief role. You see?? But on a brighter note, the entire cast was pretty exciting. As you can probably tell, I went in with fairly low expectations, mostly because of that comparison to SELF/LESS, which was my #4 worst movie of 2015. Yeah… well, in any case, this my honest opinion of CRIMINAL.
CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is caught by the notorious anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà) and tortured to death. This is because Bill met a defector of Heimdahl’s, a hacker named Dutchman (Michael Pitt), who has the security codes to all of America’s missile commands. But Bill hid the Dutchman away from Heimdahl and paid for it with his life. However, the CIA needs that information for national security and turns to Doctor Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), who is at the forefront of a surgery that can replicate the memories of a dead person by transferring them into the host of someone else. That someone else comes in the form of a criminal named Jericho (Kevin Costner). The surgery goes well, but Bill’s memories are fragmented to Jericho and are of no use to the CIA. Ready to be taken back to prison for his uselessness, Jericho manages to escape his handlers and slowly but surly, Bill’s memories begin to not only make more sense, but begins to be influenced by Bill as well, especially when he meets his wife Jill (Gal Gadot), and their young daughter Emma (Lara Decaro).
As many comparisons as I made to SELF/LESS, this movie is significantly superior.
First of all, I feel like I’m in a small minority of people that actually like Costner. I’ve liked every movie that I’ve seen him in and this is no exception. I absolutely buy into his character arch of a man who starts off as convict that has no emotions and slowly learns to be more compassionate. One of the first acts he commits post-surgery is murder two CIA agents and an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time. But as the story progresses, he starts apologizing for doing or saying the wrong things, he starts thinking things through, and he eventually becomes invested.
I also can’t express how appreciative I am of how they didn’t make Jericho and Jill get together at the end romantically. That could have been way too easy to do and this movie didn’t do it. If anything, there’s a nice, heart-felt connection between the two. Costner and Gadot definitely have pretty good chemistry. So this would also be a good time to mention Gadot’s performance, which is good too. I totally bought into her confusion when certain information gets relayed to her. But I love how she does accept the situation as is and adapts pretty quickly without hindering the plot.
Also, I must continue my trend of being a sucker for wide-eyed little girls that give hugs to big burly men, Decaro is a thousand kinds of adorable. No, she’s not much of a character herself, other than the extra force behind giving the grizzled bad-ass some humanity. But no matter what, she is absolutely precious.
But for all my ravings for the good character work, there were more than a few lame or cliche characters.
Oldman, Jones, Michael Pitt, these are some extraordinary actors and they were given the most forgettable roles that could have been played by any actor fresh off the university boat. Oldman’s portrayal of Wells is the typical “I’m the leader of this outfit and I’m in a hermetic state of frustration when something goes wrong” kind of character. Once Jericho goes under for the surgery, something goes wrong and he’s about to die. Wells rushes up and is all like, “Hey! Keep going! You think I care if he dies! Don’t stop for anything!” Um… you want that information in Bill’s head so bad, you better fucking care about what happens to Jericho. If he dies, whatever information Bill has dies with him and the Russians get their hands on the U.S’ nuclear codes. But sure, give zero fucks about this highly experimental surgery going wrong. It’s only the United States after all. And this attitude carries over throughout the film.
And why did Jones say yes to this script?? His character is this backwards-bending doctor who just gets mistreated left and right. No, god damn it, you’re Agent K! Pull out your Series 4 De-Atomizer and you show that whiny CIA prick who the real hero is! Alright, so wrong franchise, but come on! Jones is a far better actor than this role deserves. The doctor who genuinely cares about his patient isn’t even a bad role, but the script just gives nothing for Jones to work with that has any real impact. Post-Jericho’s surgery, Wells is interrogating Jericho for the information that’s in his head. But Franks is just sitting there with his thumb up his ass. Why isn’t he insisting on Wells to shut up and let the doctor take care of the patient, who literally ten seconds ago just woke up from brain surgery! There were some serious opportunities to make good on Jones’ talent as a stalwart character, but this script misses the mark.
Finally, the penultimate villain of the movie, Heimdahl… what a forgettable bad guy. The sophisticated gentleman bad guy who respects his adversaries, but bitches and whines when things don’t go his way. Gee, it’s not enough that we already have one character that does this, but two? Give me a break, writers, I got a headache from Oldman playing that bit. Beyond that, his motivations are nonexistent. It’s just world domination via hacked nuclear codes. Christ, what action movie featuring hackers hasn’t done this?? I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if nuclear codes were as easy to hack as Hollywood portrays it as, America would be a pile of ash right now. Let’s get it together, movie-makers, time to think outside the box.
Although I do have to admit, he goes out in a pretty awesome way. Jericho’s “catchphrase” of the movie is, “you hurt me, I hurt you worse.” Coming out of anyone else, it’d just sound goofy. Okay, it still is, but it’s so much less goofy with Costner. Anyway, when he says this line to Heimdahl the first time, it’s kind of like… he killed you. How do you hurt worse than killing? That’s kind of the end of the road, don’t you think? Well, Jericho found a way that still kind of tickles me. He managed to convince Dutchman to tinker with the program that allows the user to control the missiles to be redirected back to the user. Heimdahl obviously doesn’t know this. He launches a missile and it ends up blowing him up instead of innocent people. That’s how you hurt someone worse than killing them: kill them with their own weapon or dream. Fuck yeah, Jericho.
Overall, this was a fun watch. Yeah, it may sound like I hated a bit of it, but it’s more like I hated the wasted talent of half the cast with such stereotypical roles. You fill those roles with up-and-coming actors, not veterans who’ve done amazing work. I mean, I guess everyone needs to eat and pay bills, but you can’t convince me any of the high profile actors needed the money for this film. Only Costner and Gadot stand out. But like I said, it’s hard to hate a film when you expected it to be sub-par and ends up being pretty decent, all things considered. Even the sub-par stuff is more like standard fare than an insult to my intelligence. Just an insult to these actors’ resumes. If you’re one of the few like me who enjoy Costner, especially in recent years, or even the rising fame of Gadot, I think you’ll like the movie just fine for what it is. Just don’t expect anything high concept. I myself have seen the film twice and might be open to seeing it a third, but if not, I wouldn’t be too upset over it.
My honest rating: a strong 3/5