Sundance Film Festival: ‘Emily the Criminal’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There is a reason why people flock to action thrillers and it’s because of the tension that the director creates during certain sequences. As the viewer, we sense the excitement and understand how each scene is built in order for there to be a climactic moment surrounding our lead character. It’s that thrill fluctuating throughout the runtime of the film that has to be done in a way to keep us engaged in order for us to connect with the story. In Emily the Criminal, director John Patton Ford builds those scenes extremely well just enough to hook you but then it falters in the second half.

We meet Emily (Aubrey Plaza) who is saddled with student debt and locked out of the job market due to a minor criminal record. Desperate for income, she takes a shady gig as a “dummy shopper,” buying goods with stolen credit cards supplied by a middleman named Youcef (Theo Rossi). Emily soon finds herself seduced by the world of her mentor Youcef. Plaza and Rossi developed such great chemistry between their characters that they blended into the world Patton Ford created quite naturally. Plaza was perfect for this role and her character became stronger as the film went on. She has a strong sense of who she is by the end of this and I really appreciated that.

The film itself falls apart the second Emily and Youcef get together. I preferred them as business partners instead of lovers because then the storyline just gets a bit messy. Now, they’re involved in each other’s lives with an emotional attachment that has the second half of the film spiral into something that doesn’t quite make any sense. The smaller jobs in the first half had better tension than the entirety of the second half. It would have been better to just build up to each heist and have a final generic blowout than have them get together. Even though they had chemistry between the two of them, the excitement of the action fizzled out right after.

Emily the Criminal had such potential to be a really fun action thriller but it turned into more of a dramatic piece because of the relationship between the two leads. It didn’t necessarily feel forced but it felt as if it just needed to happen because they were the leads. Plaza becomes unhinged in this film and it’s always fun to see how many wild characters she can come up with. Rossi is delight and is such a fun actor to watch as well. Both performances are solid, I just wish there was more tension in the second half of this film because it would have stuck the landing. Patton Ford knows how to build tension well and I am looking forward to see what he does next.

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