Having read the vicious reviews, Criminal, which I braved in Hindi, turned out to be as misunderstood and misinterpreted as The Jungle Book would be if it was taken literally to be a jungle fable (did someone just say, it is?).
There is a lot more to Criminal than the outrageously absurd premise of a ruthless criminal Jericho (Costner, knock-out in his malevolent makeover) whose brain is implanted with a slain CIA agent’s memory to get vital earth-saving information on a terrorist before catastrophe strikes civilization.
Catastrophe struck this film in angry welters with critics dubbing Criminal as one of the worst films in recent times. In brief, a ‘criminal’ waste of time and energy, the critics chorused.
In actuality Criminal has a lot going for itself. The action sequences on the streets of London are among the best I’ve seen in recent times, comparable if not better than what we see and savour in Captain America. Then there is Kevin Costner. If you admire this actor as much as I do, his proclivity to transform from his habitually genial roles to an evil violent criminal is beyond admirable.
As Jericho, the venom machine, Costner spreads vitriol across the screen in rippling motions. Then begins his moral and emotional transformation as Jericho begins to think with another, obviously more evolved and empathetic brain. He is bewildered and bitter about losing his psychotic rage. He is a man reluctant to feel.
“They’re called emotions,” explains Jericho’s Frankenstein Tommy Lee Jones playing the doctor who undertook the brain-transplant surgery. Lee Jones, one of America’s most versatile actors, wears a constantly worried look. He knows he has unleashed an entity that can go either way. There is brilliant scene in a medicine store between Costner and Lee Jones which ends with a stumped saleslady offering Costner medicines “on the house”.
She is the audience. We are equally stumped.
Costner humanizes Jericho with compelling dexterity. As he enters the dead CIA agent’s home and meets his beautiful grieving wife (the stunning Gal Gadot, aka Wonder Woman) and little daughter his venom alchemizes in unexpected ways giving to the monster a new window into human emotions he never knew existed.
Israeli director Ariel Vromen exercises a firm control over the action-drama. While Jericho changes, the narrative remains steadfastly true to the action genre, implanting into the stunts the kind of irresistibly dark and seductive tension that Curtis Hanson once imposed on his cinema.
The script is furiously unapologetic about the implausibilities, pushing through the virile material with unrelenting enthusiasm. Some of the verbal exchanges are decidedly over-heated and unconvincing and stilted. I also wanted to know more about the dead CIA officer (Ryan Reynolds)’s life. What was he like? His absence is the strongest presence in the film.
Criminal cuts across the chase to give us an entertainer with balls brains and a moral backbone to the relentless and sometime reprehensible violence.Most of all, Costner walks the talk with such confident strides, you are with his reformation from monster to human being even as the world all around goes up in flames.
It’s apocalypse unplugged.