A Los Angeles-set remake of Fabián Bielinsky's indie crit-hit Nine Queens, Criminal adheres so closely to the Buenos Aires-based original that it's tempting to ask, 'What's the point?' Particularly in a picture so dependent on its narrative switches and sleights of hand. Once the cat's out of the bag, there's no stuffing the moggy back in. But if you haven't seen the 2000 con caper (which is obviously what the makers are hoping), it'll no doubt appear fresh and inventive. If you have, well - there's always John C Reilly to enjoy.
For so long the solid sidekick (Boogie Nights, Chicago et al), Reilly brings his typical down-at-heel charm to a rare leading role, as the world-weary grifter who spots both talent and a bit of himself in Diego Luna's upstart, when the youngster attempts the opening naïve con in a casino. He's like Gene Hackman back in his Scarecrow/French Connection days and he sparks with the rising Mexican star. The rest of the cast are almost as impressive, particularly Maggie Gyllenhaal - steely, sexy and simmering with rage as her brother tries to do the dirty.
Gregory Jacobs, long-time first assistant director to Steven Soderbergh (who produced the adaptation and co-wrote it under the pseudonym Sam Lowry), makes an assured directorial debut and has obviously learnt much from his mentor - from Alex Wurman's David Holmes-esque score to Chris Menges' handheld cinematography.
To his credit, in relocating the story from BA to LA, Jacobs hasn't opted for the usual Hollywood/Beverly Hills backdrop, showing a side of the city usually neglected in cinema: the Hispanic heartland of East LA and Downtown. But that's about as much originality as he allows, or perhaps deems necessary. Obviously enamoured with the original, he shows the utmost respect for the source material. The message? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just remake it. In American.