Look up ‘hidden gem’ in the dictionary and you’ll find a one sheet for Gregory Jacobs’s Criminal. Alongside many others, but you catch my drift. This is a virtually unknown grifter flick that is smart, funny and really acidic and unpredictable in spots. It also has that low key ‘small movie’ feel, which is welcome in a con artist flick anyways because you can ditch the big budget gloss and focus more on story and character instead. John C. Reilly plays a middle aged con man here who, simply put, is a huge asshole, but has charmed his way through the hustling game and made some serious cash. He’s saddled with a rookie youngster (Diego Luna) who wants to learn the ropes, but the old guy basically wants nothing to do with him. It’s a sour partnership that never seems to quite gel, which provides suspense as to when the back stabbing will start. With the help of a feisty colleague (Maggie Gyllenhaal), their plan is to rob a wealthy, intimidating Scottish currency collector (the great Peter Mullan) for millions, using a carefully implemented bag of tricks and a vast contact network of fellow tricksters. As is the case with all great caper flicks, nothing is as it seems and the plot revelations are fast and heavy, in this one’s case packing a whallop of an unconventional twist ending. The terrific supporting cameo cast includes Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Brent Sexton, Michael Shannon, Malik Yoba, character actor Jack Conley and more. This is a hugely entertaining film, with an unlikeable protagonist whose arc is really a curious one to watch. Director Jacobs has only helmed two other flick, the Magic Mike sequel and the Emily Blunt horror vehicle Wind Chill, but he really shows a flair for fun exposition and labyrinthine plot turns here, as well as bringing out interesting qualities in his carefully picked actors. Steven Soderbergh also did uncredited screenplay work, which only adds to the capability and slickness. A treat.
I’ve always liked Michael Apted’s Enough, a slick, scary girl-power flick that’s given heart and personality by Jennifer Lopez, who brightens and classes up anything she headlines. It’s also got a subtly eclectic supporting cast of ice cool character actors/actresses and uses them to great potential too. Despite being predictable (a story like this usually will be in Big Hollywood), the motions it goes through somehow just feel fresh and engaging in ways that not all films like this might be able to whip up. J-Lo plays Slim here, a battered housewife who has the misfortune of being married to Billy Campbell’s Mitch, a terrifying sociopath who beats her senseless. Worse still, he’s a rich and powerful dude with a lot of high profile connections, which makes escaping his tyrannical dominance a tad tricky. She’s got a young daughter (Tessa Allen) who’s caught in the crossfire, and for Slim, enough has become enough. On the run, changing her name and decking herself out with some gnarly hand to hand combat skills are all part of a journey to both freedom and empowerment, an arc that Jennifer makes us believe with her soulful conviction and bruised spirit. Juliette Lewis is a low key scene stealer as her good friend who aids in the escape. Fred Ward does a quietly anarchic turn as her somewhat neglectful father Jupiter, who is clearly not the most compassionate fellow but does his best to right the wrongs of yesteryear with his considerable wealth and resources too. Noah Wyle does a charming scumbag shtick as a dirty cop in Campbell’s pocket who hunts her like a wolf, Jeff Kober is cheerfully menacing as one of his gung ho faux FBI Agent lieutenants, and watch for work from Dan Futterman, Brent Sexton, Michael P. Byrne, Bruce A. Young and Bill Cobbs too. The training J-Lo uses is Krav Maga, a viscerally intense martial art that’s taught to Israeli special forces, and it’s a rush to see her beat the absolute fucking shit out of her shitty asshole husband with it in some close quarters, emotionally charged bone breaking and appliance slamming beatdowns. Her and Campbell have some warped, freaky chemistry too, he’s like some demon who’s been imprisoning her and her the dark angel who strikes back fiercely. Great flick.