At a time when few movies show an ounce of originality or a fresh take on an old genre, and so many movies are little more than cookie-cutter distractions from each other, it’s energized to see something so keenly observed and uniquely competent. if Emily the criminal. It is a tense and captivating thriller that looks and feels very different.
EMILY THE CRIMINAL ★★★1/2
Emily is a girl from Bayonne, New Jersey with no specific desires to be rich, famous and extraordinary, but can’t even find a disappointing outlet in commercial advertisements for her considerable talents as an artist. A meager life as a food packer in a sort of haunted kitchen typifies the challenges faced by so many millennials who spend a fortune on education and graduation with no job, no prospects, and no guarantee of a future beyond gloom and strife. In addition, Emily’s chances of getting a permanent job are further affected by $70,000 in student loans, a red flag conviction during a DUI with a large fine that has not yet been paid. Obviously, this is a girl in dire need of money, so she jumps at the chance to respond to an offer that promises to pay $200 an hour quickly for a simple service. The problem is that the “position” turns out to be an illegal scheme to steal merchandise using fake credit cards. It works, so the next day, instead of doubling her winnings, she gets promoted to another “job” that pays a cool $2000! The plot thickens and the action begins.
Emily isn’t a criminal by nature, but one minor offense leads to another, until she’s head over heels in offense and headed for a crime. First director John Patton Ford’s script is a mesmerizing combination of genre magnification and social commentary on the kind of inequality of American wealth that drives poor but educated people to the dark side of capitalism. The forces at work here include a wildly effective central performance of Aubrey Plaza, which captivates and seduces from start to finish. Emily discovers how easy it is to slip into the world of credit card fraud – a criminal pursuit that is becoming increasingly popular among young people, and how inevitable it is to be abused in every way by the system from Friday as they support themselves by their merchandise online, on Craig’s list and wherever people turn to buy and sell everything from catalytic converters and smartphones to batteries and Buicks.
This is a new way of life. It’s also a way to risk to live. Tired of being a victim and unwisely falling for her partner in crime, a charming immigrant named Yousef (Theo Rossen), Emily declares war (“They keep taking and taking from you until you make the damn rule yourself! “), a simple scam turns into a committed life of crime, and a paltry bottle of mace turns into a deadly box cutter and eventually violence and death. Writer-director Ford keeps the bloodshed to a minimum, but extracts maximum excitement and fear from the simple swipe of a credit card. No spoilers please, but Emily the criminal defies even the conventional ways thrillers like this usually end. The shocking finale, like everything else, owes it all to Aubrey Plaza, whose dull gaze and tight jaw hide an intense intelligence that throbs beneath the surface. None of the stupid comedies she’s played in before (funny people with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, Scott pilgrim against the world opposite the incompetent Michael Cera, or Robert DeNiro’s worst movie of all time, dirty grandpa) prepared the world for the skill on display here, but I bet everyone will see her in a new light afterward Emily the criminal. Taking her for granted now would be the greatest crime of all.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable cinema.