There's a really unusual feel to this film, with gritty cinematography that seems to reside somewhere between motion picture and documentary styles. Early on, it doesn't even feel like a movie, as it had me wondering why this film didn't have any musical score to speak of. Given time, though, Criminal really took off - and I must say the rather hip musical score that does indeed emerge really helps carry the mood and feel. I've never heard of Nueva Reinas (Nine Queens), the 2000 Argentinean original upon which the film is based, but Criminal does have something of a foreign feel to it and scores major points with its complicated con man deluxe storyline.
What begins as a day in the life of professional con man Richard Gaddis (played ably by John C. Reilly) turns into "the big sting" with lots of surprises along the way. You can't really relax, as new elements consistently pop up to interrupt the flow and keep you on your toes. Gaddis spots a kid hustling waitresses at a local casino and takes it upon himself to make the kid, Rodrigo (Diego Luna), his new partner. Gaddis "Angloes up" his name to Bryan, and the two basically walk all over town pulling two-bit cons orchestrated by the older mentor. Then, Gaddis walks into a potentially killer score when a former associate pops up with an extremely rare Treasury bill (which is intricately made but completely counterfeit) and asks Gaddis to make the sell to a filthy rich collector who, as it turns out, has to leave the country by the next morning (which means there won't be much time for intricate analysis of the note). A lot of roadblocks emerge on the road to this easy score, not the least of which is Gaddis' estranged sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who becomes an intricate part of the deal. Gaddis has literally everything riding on this "transaction," and it ends up being one roller coaster of a ride. There's a big twist at the end, and I really can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's a good thing until you stand back and ask a few pointed questions about the whole story, but it's certainly entertaining as it happens.
A story like this won't fly without talented actors who can sell it, and the cast of Criminal is really excellent. Luna looks uncomfortably like Cha-chi from Happy Days from certain angles, but don't let that bother you. Just sit back and go with the flow, resisting the urge to overanalyze everything as it happens, and you will almost certainly come away feeling you got your money's worth from this refreshingly different film.