This is a thriller with a heavy element of science fiction — it involves technology developed by scientist Quaker Wells (Tommy Lee Jones) which allows a dead man's memories to be transferred to the brain of a living subject. The complication is that the living brain has to be undeveloped — stunted — in a certain way. And the ideal candidate is a dangerous criminal called Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner in a comeback role).
Ryan Reynolds has played a similar role in Self/less, one of the better films of last year, in which he was the recipient, rather than the donor, of someone's personality. But Criminal is even better.
This kind of story has its antecedents in the 1966 Frankenheimer film Seconds. And there are also echoes of Daniel Keyes's sf classic Flower for Algernon. I could go on to mention Ralph Blum's novel The Simultaneous Man, but that would be showing off.
The Reynolds character, Bill Pope is an intelligence agent who has — or had — vital knowledge of a deadly terrorist plot. His memories are duly downloaded into Jericho, who then escapes from the authorities but, as you might imagine, eventually ends up foiling the plot.
This is a fine thriller, with genuinely great use of London locations, but what really makes the movie is that Jericho is a sociopath who has never really experienced any emotional connection with another person — and he has to deal with the fact that the dead man's love for his wife and daughter (Gal Gadot and Lara Decaro, both dazzling) begins to surface in him.
Adding urgency and poignancy to the plot is the fact that Jericho only has Pope's memories in his head for about 48 hours — this is where it's similar to Flowers for Algernon, which told the tragic story of a mentally subnormal man who is given superior intelligence, only to gradually lose it again. In this case, what Jericho is going to lose is his humanity.
This is a truly terrific movie, with what used to be called a star-studded cast, which also includes Gary Oldman and Michael Pitt. And I was particularly impressed by the work of director Ariel Vroman (who previously did the Michael Shannon hitman movie Iceman).
But the real prize here goes to the writing team of Douglas Cook & David Weisberg who also wrote Double Jeopardy, another clever thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones. Here they truly deliver the goods in a complex, engrossing script with real depth.
My only quibble is the scene which depicts a London black-cab driver using GPS instead of relying, as is required, on his memory (ironic in a movie where memory is the theme). He's promptly shot dead, which is the least he deserved.
(Image credits: as usual where movie posters are concerned, Imp Awards comes up trumps.)