Emily the Criminal (Melbourne International Film Festival) – Film Review

I’ve always loved crime films regardless of what level of crime or what country these films come from.

With The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction being considered some of the greatest movies ever made, it’s undeniable that many filmgoers feel the same way I do. While not always realistic, the genre can be approached from all sorts of angles not simply being about the crime itself, but often as interesting character studies on people and what it is in their lives which drives them to the wrong side of the law.

Emily the Criminal is a drama thriller which acts as the debut feature film from writer and director John Patton Ford. It follows Emily (Aubrey Plaza) a former artist with a past criminal assault record weighing her down. She struggles to make ends meet and pay her student debt with her low paying job. By chance one day, a co-worker gives her the opportunity to make some quick cash via a credit card fraud ring operated by Youcef (Theo Rossi) and his cousin Kahlil (Jonathan Avigdori). Quickly, Emily becomes seduced by the allure of making fast money and developing a relationship with Youcef, however this new life of crime she has adopted begins leading her down an increasingly dark path she may not be ready for.

Along this entire journey is a distinct feeling of intensity which never lets up. Although there is definitely a sudden change at some point, I felt the film hadn’t earned it. Up until then, Emily feels like someone who doesn’t quite gather just how deep she’s digging this hole for herself and around this John Patton Ford crafts some nail biting sequences.

What I found interesting about this movie is how it only really scrapes the surface of the crime world Emily becomes involved in. Some might find this disappointing however, as there isn’t a lot to this story that we haven’t seen before in other films. We never go too far into the organisation or branch out into different areas it largely stuck with simple credit card fraud in action coupled with the bond which grows between Emily and Youcef.

Admittedly, I may not have seen much of Aubrey Plaza‘s recent work, but she’s always struck me as an actress with a particular charisma and she puts her all into this movie. As the stakes get higher and Emily goes from someone who is simply a cog in the machine to the person calling the shots, it was great seeing that when pushed she can definitely take care of herself, all the while still there are hints that she is still a good person underneath.

The relationship which grows between Emily and Youcef leads to us seeing Youcef in a completely new light as time goes on. It never really struck me as a cliched ‘thief with a heart of gold’ character arc. Rather, it was a role reversal I enjoy seeing done well in films. Through Theo Rossi‘s great performance, there is almost a switch as he becomes the out of his depth character while Emily is the one willing to get dirty and hurt people for a big pay day.

Something I disliked was how the film seemed to have the same issues a lot of others have in where to go with this type of story. This isn’t at all a ‘good vs evil’ Robin Hood-type storyline and while I don’t wish for any morale grandstanding, Emily‘s ambitions are quite shallow and her capabilities and competency as a master criminal is debatable. As such, I believe the final act needed work to create something with more significance, all things considered. Unfortunately, the film strikes me as not building towards a goal and I felt myself somewhat unsatisfied when the ending credits rolled on.

Ford has done an excellent job with Emily the Criminal, creating a thrilling crime flick from beginning to end, with Aubrey Plaza & Theo Rossi nailing it and showing off their respective talents.

Emily the Criminal is screening in Australia as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.
For more information, visit: https://miff.com.au/program/film/emily-the-criminal

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