“Criminal”

 

            It's an intriguing idea, if a bit mind-blowing:  a brain transplant.  Nobody knows, if it were sucessful, how it would affect the internal activity of the recipient, and how much of the “former personality” might intrude.  And when, exactly, would it be worth the risk to try that?

            In “Criminal,” the doomsday scenario is quietly sombering.  It seems the CIA has determined that a Spanish anarchist, Heimbahl (Jordi Molla) has somehow hacked into the American military's capacity to launch missiles.  His protege is the mysterious “Dutchman,” Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), but he has decided he's not ready for Doomsday yet, and has turned to a CIA agent named Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) to deliver the money and changed-identity passport to get him out of Europe safely.  But Pope is caught by Heimbahl and his henchmen (including a woman, a German anarchist), who torture him to death before the CIA can come to the rescue.  But director of operations Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman)---an ironic screen name, don't you think?---decides to play his trump card:  he recruits the famous brain surgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep Pope's brain alive long enough to transplant it into an unwilling recipient, hopeful that he could then retrieve Pope's memory about the Dutchman.  So they can save the planet from anarchy, you know.

            The targeted recipient, Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), is a lifelong convict currently imprisoned, but chosen because he seems to lack frontal lobe activity because of a childhood head injury.  Thus, he cannot tell right from wrong, and knows no emotion, and feels no empathy toward anyone.  Can Pope's frontal lobe supply those things for Stewart?  And how much of Pope's memory could Stewart recall, and how much would that interfere with his own brain waves?

            OK, the science is more like science fiction.  But if you decide to go with the flow here, you get a drama on several different fronts:  not only Stewart dealing with his new internal struggle, but also the race between the good guys and the bad guys to get the precious flash drive that contains the computer technology, which in the wrong hands could threaten the whole planet.

            Yes, there are some parts that stretch credulity.  Stewart finds a safe haven in going to Pope's house and at first tying up his grieving widow, Jill (Gal Gadot), then later somehow feeling some tenderness toward her that he's never felt before, causing her to....develop a certain affection for him, because of the precious memories he carries about her relationship with her late husband? 

            The good news is that Kevin Costner enjoys a multifacted role where he gets to play the conscienceless thug, along with discovering his “soft side,” and the two facets struggle within him like Jekyll and Hyde.  There are also several good chase scenes, and some almost-believable gun battles, as the anarchists and the government guys race to secure the prize, the key to which is locked inside the split personality of Stewart.

            So trying to bubble through all this desperate violence is the ephemeral but appealing idea that what really motivates us is love.  And in the end, it's our only hope for humanizing ourselves, as well.  That will preach.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Are you in favor of developing our technology and capacity for organ transplants, or is this too much like “playing God”?

2)                  What do you think would happen to the recipient if a brain transplant were actually successful?

3)                  How much authority should the CIA have to overcome terrorist threats?  Absolute?  Or limited? Who decides?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association