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CRIMINAL, THE (director/writer: Julian Simpson; cinematographer: Nic Morris; editor: Mark Aarons; music: Tolga Kashif/Mark Sayer-Wade; cast: Steven Mackintosh (Jasper Rawlins), Eddie Izzard (Peter Hume), Natasha Little (Sarah Reed/Maitland), Yvan Attal (Mason), Holly Aird (Detective-Sgt. Rebecca White), Andrew Tiernan (Harris), Bernard Hill (Detective-Inspector Walker), Norman Lovett (Clive), Jana Carpenter (Grace), Barry Stearn (Noble), Georgia Mackenzie (Maggie), Abigail Blackmore (Arsey Barmaid); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Chris Johnson; Downtown Pictures/Palm Pictures; 2000-UK)
“Simpson has created an intelligent, well-acted, twisty, spellbinding, dark and moody film that questions if what you are seeing is believable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The British 23-year-old writer/director Julian Simpson’s crime film was inspired by such B type of film noirs as The Big Combo and Night and the City. It’s a dazzling story about an ‘everyman’ genial type, Jasper Rawlins (Steven Mackintosh), who is taken out of his environment and finds himself in over his head as a framed serial-killer who can’t straighten out his messy situation and is meant to die unless he can find an answer.

In the classical dark noir atmosphere that sets the tone, one is not meant to believe everything that’s said. Everyone is depicted as subject to manipulation and could be bought and corrupted. Jasper is set up as a patsy, and becomes a character in a noir film who might not be able to find his dark side in time to save his hide. Simpson has created an intelligent, well-acted, twisty, spellbinding, dark and moody film that questions if what you are seeing is believable.

Warning: there are spoilers in the next paragraph.

The film opens in a darkly lit bar where the socially awkward musician, Jasper, has picked up the classy blonde Sarah Reed (Natasha Little) despite his weak pick-up banter and coming off as someone who is not hip. Sarah plays mind games with him, and laughs at his misplaced earnestness and his self-pitying opinion of himself as a serious musician who materially survives by composing dance hall music that he knows is crap even though he yearns to write more serious compositions. Jasper’s surprised to find that he succeeds in getting this beautiful but mysterious woman to go back with him to his place for a drink. All he knows about her is that she lives in upscale Hampstead and doesn’t work or have a mate. Suddenly a man breaks into his flat and knifes Sarah to death, as Jasper flees unharmed. The police come when a neighbor calls about the noise from the next flat disturbing his sleep. Detective-Inspector Walker (Bernard Hill) is particularly hostile to Jasper, not buying his story. The Detective-Sgt. Rebecca White (Holly Aird) also doesn’t buy Jasper’s story — as they both grill him at the police station and laugh off his story as an insult to their intelligence. They even mockingly take bets with their colleagues on how long it will take to get him to confess. But they’re forced to let him go for lack of evidence, as the knife wasn’t recovered. They put a tail on him headed by a female detective named Maggie (Mackenzie). Her team follows him into a peepshow where an oily character named Noble (Stearn) forces a meeting with him without identifying himself and tells him he can’t trust the police but only him, as he tries to question Jasper to find out all he knows. Noble even offers to have the police drop charges against him if he cooperates. When convinced Jasper doesn’t know anything he lets him go unharmed, as the police continue their tail without knowing he met with Noble. Next Jasper tracks down the bartender who served him when he was with Sarah last night, but he gets there too late as the bartender is slumped dead over the toilet in the men’s room. A suspect in yet another murder, Jasper manages to lose the police tail rather than to try and explain this one to the hostile police. Meanwhile Rebecca has gotten the police computer expert, Clive (Lovett), to do a thorough identity check on Sarah, and now believes that maybe Jasper didn’t do it–which doesn’t sit well with her partner Walker. Walker insists that if they get the knife, they will get his prints on it. Clive comes up with info that says her real name is Sarah Maitland, she attended Oxford, was arrested for cannabis possession, and worked for a dubious firm called Shattleton that has no known address and never states its business purpose. While in the process of digging further into her bio, Rebecca receives a call that the knife was found and she should come pick it up at once. Instead, she’s led into a trap as the killer knocked out Jasper and put his prints on the knife and killed Rebecca making it look like Jasper also did it. Jasper again flees the police and learns while on the run that Clive was also killed, and he’s now blamed for four murders. Sleeping by a garbage dump he’s mugged by an elderly homeless man, who is later picked up by the police with Jasper’s wallet. Jasper finds an abandoned warehouse to sleep in as he’s too exhausted to run anymore, but he’s awakened and confronted by a paranoid American homeless woman (Carpenter) who thinks some drug dealer named Raphael has sent him to her hideaway to steal her stash. The homeless woman only trusts Jasper, when she reads in the newspapers that he’s a wanted serial-killer. She believes the papers just provide disinformation and that he’s a political fugitive framed by the cops.

The film goes into overdrive with its continuous double-crossings. A seemingly sincere forensic cop, Peter Hume (Eddie Izzard), who argued with the detectives that they have no evidence to charge Jasper with a crime, gets Jasper into his car to avoid the police manhunt and then tells him and the audience all about the mysterious underground CIA-like firm that Sarah worked for but couldn’t get out of when she wanted to leave.

This is just a wonderful example of modern film noir succeeding despite using all the familiar noirish clichés. On further scrutiny, the film holds up really well. If you have a chance to see it again the story seems to even make more sense, as all the dots can be connected. Steven Mackintosh looks the part of a sap and makes all the right gestures of a nice guy caught in a web of murder and deceit. Bernard Hill is an imposing figure as a brutish, foul mouthed cop, someone very likely to get a confession from an innocent party. Eddie Izzard is playing against type in his small but significant part.

REVIEWED ON 11/26/2002 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”