Ariel Vromen’s “Criminal” is not Kevin Costner’s best film but it’s something I can watch again to pass the time. It’s entertaining and, oddly or not, quite enjoyable mostly because Costner wasn’t trying to be the god-like hero that he liked to portray in most of his films during his heyday.
That’s the thing about Kevin Costner’s old movies. I always got the impression that he was always trying to immortalize himself rather than portraying a character in a story. The cinematography and production design of “Dances With Wolves” might have blown me away but I never cared to watch it again because there was the nagging feeling that the film was developed to massage Costner’s ego and allow him to live out his fantasies, and telling a story was only secondary.
I got the same impression when watching “Waterworld” and “The Postman”. If it weren’t for Alan Rickman’s wicked portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” might not have been as enjoyable. And without the magnificent supporting cast of “The Untouchables” and the delightful Armani wardrobe, the film might have gone in the direction of the rest of Costner’s films.
While die-hard fans of Kevin Costner may have no problems with that, I did. So I skipped a lot of Kevin Costner movies especially those with baseball as theme. Well, except “Field of Dreams” because its fantasy element intrigued me.
I didn’t start taking notice of Costner’s films again until “Mr. Brooks” came out. When I saw it, I thought to myself that, finally, a movie with Kevin Costner in it that isn’t really about Kevin Coster and his hero fantasies at all. And it was that remembrance that hovered in my mind when “Criminal” was released on video. I was raring to see it.
The plot — transferring the memories of a dead man to a live one — wasn’t exactly new. Something similar dubbed “shared dreamscape” was in the pilot episode of “Fringe“. But the trailer was riveting and the supporting cast — including Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman and Michael Pitt — was stellar.
“Criminal” is one of those anti-terrorist films that America has been in love with for the past two decades. A terrorist, Xavier Heimdahl, hires a hacker to develop a wormhole that can bypass all computer codes. The objective? Take control of the world’s nuclear arms. The hacker, Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), loses his nerve and seeks to turn over the wormhole to the CIA in exchange for money and a new identity.
London-based CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) hides Stroop and is on his way to deliver his money and new passport when he is caught by Heimdahl who tortures him to death without knowing the location of the hacker.
Pope’s body is recovered and his supervisor, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), asks neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to use a new procedure that allows the memory of a dead man to be transferred to a live one. The recipient of the memories is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a convicted felon and sociopath.
Did Pope’s memories get transferred to Stewart? Yes. And don’t dismiss the movie thinking it’s ridiculous because such a thing is impossible. It’s fiction, for goodness’ sakes, and if you can believe that Jason Bourne can do all the things he does and Ethan Hunt’s disguises in all Mission Impossible films are acceptably plausible, then, what’s wrong with memory transfer?
It takes time for Stewart to assimilate the images in his mind. And the memories from Pope are not only those related to his work but also personal ones — where he lived, how to disarm his home’s alarm system, the names of his wife and daughter. Stewart also acquires Pope’s skills including the ability to speak French.
There is some serious gore in “Criminal”, some of which probably unnecessary. But the pace of the film is good and the editing is simply superb. It was hard not to get engrossed. In fact, it was easy to get engrossed because the story was told like a straight line and it didn’t require philosophizing nor overthinking. Just go along and it’s fun.