Directed by: Jackie Earle Haley
Produced by: Howard Burd
Wayne Allan Rice
Screenplay by: Robert Lowell
Starring: John Travolta
Jackie Earle Haley
Music by: Keefus Ciancia
Cinematography by: Seamus Tierney
Editing by: Alex Marquex
Studio(s): Capacity Pictures
May Day Movies
Phoenix Rising Motion Pictures
Distributed by: RLJ Entertainment
Release date: November 20, 2015 (United States)
Running time: 94 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $7 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $34, 460
I've decided to bring back the capsule reviews for certain films because frankly my time is getting more and more occupied with other things, and though I'm not able to dedicate as much rhetoric to certain films, I would still like to cover them.
Today's film up for review is Criminal Activities, a crime thriller starring John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, and also featuring and directed by Jackie Earle Haley. Pitt, Stevens, Rob Brown and Christopher Abbot star as four men who at the funeral of their friend decide to make a risky investment together, which goes tits-up and puts them in the debt of mobster Eddie (Travolta). In order to pay off their debt, Eddie employs them in a job to kidnap Marques (Edi Gathegi), the relative of a rival gangster, to extort off their debt by way of ransom. Got it? Good!
To start off with the good, I'm not sure how Jackie Earle Haley got the directing gig here (maybe a previous director dropped out or they couldn't get one and he was already there as a cast member?), but he delivers a competently made film. Haley understands that the film is ultimately a small-scale morality play, and for the most part the film does not overstep it's bounds as far as genre conventions, which is fine. The film also boasts a couple of solid performances. Michael Pitt's Zach is a suitably intense, bleary-eyed Wall Street yuppie with a coke habit, balanced well in terms of his emotional flip-flopping. Seeing this mad me wonder why Pitt isn't in more high-profile films. Also, you've got Dan Stevens in there as the twitchy and neurotic Noah, delivering a performance that bounces between his character's bumbling attempts at being 'the man with a plan' and the fact that Noah is inherently a nervous wreck. This is Stevens' eight film in three years, and shows another layer the man's versatility. I look forward to seeing him alongside Emma Watson in Bill Condon's Beauty And The Beast. Finally, as far as the technical side of things, it too is also done competently. The film looks decent and the editing is fine.
Criminal Activities has enough things going for it, but it is one of those odd films that despite being made well enough, never really strives to be anything better. Note that the rhetoric I've used includes neutral language such as "competent," "fine" and "decent."It's not negative criticism by any means, but it isn't exactly praise. The work of the screenwriter, the late poet Robert Lowell, who died in 1977, is updated by Haley, but after all of the darkly humorous "average guys get knee deep in shit" plots that we have seen in films since the 1990s, this seems old-hat. Also, it might have passed for a good film if it wasn't for the bungled, overly-convoluted third act, which gets way ahead of itself and attempting to be way too smart with it's twists and turns. I don't want to get overly on the case of John Travolta either, but Eddie is the kind of part that isn't exactly much of a stretch for him. He gets to show up, do between five and ten days tops, with all the low-angle 'hero' shots of the day, get paid and go home. I like Travolta, but it's the kind of thing that could have been done by another actor but they needed a 'name' in the film, and it just seems an awful waste.
Criminal Activities is a competently-made morality play, kept in good direction by Jackie Earle Haley, solid technical qualities and strong performances from Michael Pitt and Dan Stevens. However, competence does not equate to quality, and the film gets too big for it's boots, overly convoluted, and fails to strive to be anything more than decent.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bleh!