"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

00605 – Smooth Criminals

Movie-Hype00605 – Smooth Criminals

Those who know me know I tire of crap. I won’t deal with it anymore. Whether Film, TV, Music, Literature, Food, or Nagging Women. I’m just not willing to put up with non-excellence. Perhaps like Moe Sislak, this is why I can’t find Amanda Huggenkiss: my standards are too high.

But I do have a few exceptions.

In the movie department this includes childhood faves—CLOAK AND DAGGER comes to mind; Spanish and French Cinema—there rarely seems to be much of a plot but everyone is just so excited to be there (and remind me to tell you sometime about the magic rat); and then there are Caper Films.

At least: that’s what I call them. What I’m talking about is that kind of film where a Con or Heist or some sort of job is pulled off by smooth-talking confidence men, and it always seems like they’re getting screwed until the end when you discover that things were not as they seem.

For some reason I seem to be very tolerant of this genre. I haven’t run across a Caper movie I didn’t enjoy. Of course, perhaps all of them are just wonderful, but I rather suspect it’s me. I like trying to figure out exactly what the con is, and how they’re doing it. I enjoy the good times.

I think everyone—with the possible exception of Jennifer Aniston—would agree that the best Caper film of recent memory is OCEAN’S ELEVEN. Smooth, slick, loads of fun and perhaps the most important factor in this type of movie, the actors just look like they are having a good time. If they’re not having a good time fooling the other characters, why should we have a good time watching them?

Today have three small Caper films for you to consider. None are OCEAN’S ELEVEN, but all were enjoyable . Obviously in a Caper film it is paramount not to trick out the plot, so I’ll just give you a sentence or two on that to get you going. I’ll also have my rating guide (which you can learn more about in column #121), and talk about how “fair” the movies play. What that means is that in a Caper flick or any movie with a surprise ending, the second time through the audience should be able to catch things. Things you didn’t know to look for the first time. That’s playing fair. (If you’re confused as to what I mean, think of THE SIXTH SENSE, and knowing what you now know, how it was all right there in front of you the whole time on the second viewing.)

Suspension of Disbelief Scale (out of 10): 5. You always have to take Caper films with a grain of salt; no cat burglars are that sexy, but they try hard to stay plausible.

Genre Grade: Obviously this is a Caper Film, with OCEAN’S ELEVEN rating an A+, a virtually perfect movie. By that standard I’ve give FOOLPROOF a B-. It’s not uber-complicated, and you might figure it out, but it’s still fun.

Pantheon Percentile: 55. There aren’t going to be any awards and I doubt TBS preempts the 35th showing of SHAWSHANK that week for it, but I’d watch FOOLPROOF a few more times.

PLAYS FAIR: Below average. The director is hampered—I suspect—by a small budget and his own limited creativity, so there are some big cheats going on.

: Sigh. Very little, and it would’ve have helped, as the girl is hot and so is Reynolds. Still; whaddya gonna do?

The first film on the agenda is FOOLPROOF, a Canadian joint, starring the oh-so-dreamy Ryan Reynolds. I’ve long had a hetero-crush on Reynolds. (Although, I hear when I’m not around my brother Achmed often expresses a doubt about how heterosexual it is.) I just always find him appealing as an actor. Anyway, in the movie, Reynolds and his friends have this hobby of making plans to break into high-security places. The mimic the conditions and perfect their craft until the plan is “foolproof.” But they’re not criminals; it’s just a hobby. So what would happen if their “plans” fell into the wrong hands and someone else used them?

Suspension of Disbelief Index: 7. Little bit more of a stretch.

Genre Grade: B. Rachel Weisz as the girl takes it up a step above.

Pantheon Percentile: 55. Nothing special.

PLAYS FAIR: Not as much with clues, but emotionally you can figure it out. The male/female stuff is definitely worth parsing.

Sex/Violence: The R rating comes more from language, but we do get some good sensuality

The biggest thing going for CONFIDENCE is the names, which include Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue, Morris Chestnut, Leland Orser, the always reliable Luis Guzman, Robert Forster (I know!), and Dustin Hoffman. Even if you’re not up on movies you recognize that’s a lot of names, and it’s kind of a surprise this was such a small film. I’m guessing the reason is Edward Burns, who’s better suited to comedies (he wrote) like THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN and SHE’S THE ONE.

Burns does his best, but frankly, the bit characters were so much better I’d have rather seen a movie about them. (Sadly, this was before Giamatti hit it big or he might have been the star. And Logue is still an untapped talent to most out there.) Hoffman has that air of a man searching for an Oscar, and he is good, but for me it was a little too…I don’t know. Judge for yourself. Rachel Weisz gets a lot of meat in her role, which is a good thing. When she cares that girl can bring it just with her eyes. There are plenty of great performances here, so even if the outcomes is never in doubt you shouldn’t be disappointed.

A couple of years ago the Oscars looked like the John C. Reilly show. I think he was in GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE HOURS and CHICAGO. (For all I know he was also an orc in THE TWO TOWERS.)

Suspension of Disbelief Index: 3. More of a real feel to this, and the one stretch they take works in the context they try it in.

Genre Grade: B+. This is slick as can be, and really has the feel of someone who has been there more than a Hollywood writer trying to make up cool stuff.

Pantheon Percentile: 70. I’d own it for John C. Reilly’s acting and to watch it with friends and see if they could catch what was going on.

PLAYS FAIR: 100%. When you’re done go back and think about the bathroom scene. View the whole film through that new prism and you’ll realize it was always right there in front of you, if only you’d seen it.

Sex/Violence: de nada (good bit of language, though)

What’s so great about Reilly is that he simply disappears, so that you never see him, but his character. A few years ago Reilly was in HARD EIGHT, a tour-de-force for him and Phillip Baker Hall. Maybe I can get around to writing a whole column on that film.

For now, Reilly shows up in CRIMINAL, which at first seems like another acting showcase for him. Reilly as Richard Gaddis is wonderful, slimy and evil and yet somehow sympathetic at the same time. Diego Luna is the sidekick, whom you may remember from Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. He’s fairly bland here, but elusive enough to make you wonder what else might be going on in his head. The rest of the smaller characters are great except Richard’s sister, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I am a huge Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, but sad to say there is nothing for her to do here.

Still, CRIMINAL has the strongest script of the three. It’s a virtual re-make of an Argentinean movie 9 QUEENS, which is better, but unless you speak Spanish it’d be simpler to just see this.

Two reasons why CRIMINAL stands above: we get to see the inner workings of “the con.” How cons operate and work (or don’t). We get a day-to-day feel, as the two main characters try to one-up each other for street cred, and realize that most of the time it’s not that complicated. What matters most is the mark.

Even better than that: the movie continues to build toward a big finish, but until the very last scene, you never are quite sure who is being conned. I swear at one point I had 5 suspects. That my friends, is why I love Caper movies.


Ajax said...

Sounds like you're doing confidence men movies as much as heist flims. And if that't the case, why no Matchstick Men? No Spanish Prisoner? How about The Grifters? Even Diggstown?

Ajax said...

Or if it's straight stealing at gunpoint, how could you fail to mention The Usual Suspects, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Thunderbolt and Lightfoot?