Director : Sacha Gervasi
Cast : Ansel Elgort, Chloë Grace Moretz, Tessa Albertson, Catherine Keener, David Strathairn, Cory Hardrict
Genre : Crime/Drama
Run Time : 1h 26m
Opens : 28 December 2017
Rating : NC16
Ansel Elgort and Chloë Grace Moretz are out to avenge their friend’s murder in this mystery thriller. Be warned: it’s not as exciting as it sounds, because this movie isn’t all that mysterious, nor is it very thrilling.
Elgort and Moretz play Addison and Phoebe respectively. They’re not exactly boyfriend and girlfriend – ‘friends with benefits’ is more like it, but that’s not exactly right, either. Anyway, their friend Kevin (Jared Kemp) is shot dead at the coffee shop where he works. The police write it off as a gang-related killing, but Addison insists that there’s no way Kevin, a trombonist in the school band who loved literature and wrote poetry, would’ve been in a gang. Addison refuses to let the matter lie, much to the chagrin of the school principal Mr. Karlstadt (Terry Kinney). Addison’s father Theo (David Strathairn) grows concerned about his son, especially since Addison’s mother passed away recently. Phoebe’s mother Fiona (Catherine Keener) is none too pleased that her daughter is involved with Addison, whom she deems trouble. As Addison and Phoebe get further in over their heads, the criminal elements who killed Kevin threaten their own lives.
November Criminals is based on the novel The November Criminals by Sam Munson. The film is directed and co-written by Sacha Gervasi – co-writer Steven Knight was initially set to direct, with Gervasi replacing him at the helm. Gervasi made a living as a journalist while he was studying screenwriting at UCLA. As such, it’s a shame that the investigative aspect of the plot is downplayed, and the whodunit ostensibly at the story’s core is so uninvolving. Gervasi comes from a family who have been involved in both journalism and politics, but he doesn’t bring his understanding of either field to bear in this film, which would be a natural vehicle to do so. After all, it is a murder mystery set in Washington D.C. This reviewer was hoping for a far-reaching conspiracy to swallow up our young heroes. What we get is far more mundane.
November Criminals hinges on the somewhat unconventional relationship between its two leads. Elgort and Moretz seem like a pairing that would work on paper, but the writing only serves to render both actors unlikeable, instead of highlighting their charm. This is especially true of Elgort, whose persona has often been described as off-putting. While the recent Baby Driver smartly showcased Elgort at his very best, in November Criminals, he comes off as a smug, twitchy, and ultimately insufferable know-it-all. The character’s Jewishness, which was apparently a key element in the novel, is not mentioned at all.
Much as the film does not want Phoebe to end up as a stock girlfriend character, and despite Moretz’s efforts to keep the character from being an example of that, Phoebe is little more than ‘the girlfriend’. Phoebe makes her intention to lose her virginity to Addison known early in the film, leading to an incredibly awkward sex scene – the thing is, we cannot determine how much of said awkwardness was intentional, and how much was accidental. Phoebe often comes off as whiny, and while Elgort and Moretz are passably convincing as a couple, their chemistry often lacks energy.
Strathairn and Keener, dependable actors they are, show up and do their jobs but don’t make too much of an impact. Keener’s character apparently works in government, but this plays almost zero part in the plot. Cory Hardrict’s drug dealer character D. Cash is little more than a caricature, and doesn’t have enough personality or intimidation factor.
November Criminals doesn’t balance the giddy rush of young love with the intensity of a mystery thriller, resulting in a film that’s flat-footed and dull instead of deftly exciting. Oddly enough, the least endearing traits of its leads are brought to the forefront, and there aren’t really any stakes to speak of. This would’ve been a borderline okay TV film, but is too underwhelming to see on the big screen.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars