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Emily the Criminal ★★★★



Director: John Patton Ford

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Gina Gershon

Release: TBC

Aubrey Plaza’s career has been going from strength to strength as the years go by. In 2020 she set the bar high with her performance in Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear. It showed another side to Plaza that some could not imagine. She has become a real torch bearer within American indie cinema, and her latest performance needs to be witnessed in Emily the Criminal.

The film follows Emily (Aubrey Plaza), 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). Faced with a series of dead-end job interviews, Emily soon finds herself seduced not only by the quick cash and illicit thrills of black market capitalism but also by her ardent mentor Youcef.

Emily the Criminal is such a grounded crime thriller. Within its gritty aesthetic is such a compelling and honest portrayal of surviving. Living in the gig economy era is challenging. Nobody wants to be a criminal, but Emily feels she is out of options. While there is a Safdie-esk vibe within its pacing, Patton Ford has a more profound sense of emotional depth to his narrative. You empathise with Emily in these circumstances, and that’s quite rare in crime thrillers. Emily has some questionable decisions, but her yearning to survive is intense.

You are thrown into Emily’s life from the get-go. As you go along for the ride, you pick up the pieces of what has happened to her. Exploring the gig economy and student loan debt raises the stakes, but you do wish it was explored a bit more. Money is the driving force of crime thrillers, but Emily’s reasons for delving into crime has that American indie feeling you’d expect from a Sundance premiere. It has an intensity that not many films can muster, and while you know something terrible is about to happen to Emily, you can’t fathom what she is going through or how she will get out of this hole. There is a strong sense of metaphorical claustrophobia in these pulsating moments, and this writer’s little heart couldn’t take the heat at times.

John Patton Ford candidly shoots this with great tone and exposure. It’s paced so rigorously along with such a pulsating tempo. At the epicentre of it all is Aubrey Plaza. You see another side to her as Emily that is so layered and densely crafted. She never ceases to amaze audiences, and she yet again delivers a mammoth of a performance. You don’t see Aubrey at all here during this film. Her eyes reveal so much about Emily. She grows in confidence as she makes money, but that constant fear of being caught dwells within her.

Theo Rossi complements Plaza’s performance as Youcef. He shows her a different world where she doesn’t need to fit in, nor does she need anyone to help her. As you delve further into this tale of intensity, their kinetic energy ignites, and you are rooting for them to make it out of the city. Beyond the simplicity of the premise, there is so much to uncover. Director John Patton Ford is a natural talent, and a bright future is ahead of him.

Emily the Criminal is quite the experience well written, well crafted, and well-executed.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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