Connect with us
Aubrey Plaza appears in Emily the Criminal by John Patton Ford, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Low Spark Films.

Film

Emily the Criminal: A Contemporary Thriller That Nails It

What happens when the inhuman ills of a capitalist society become too much for one gig economy worker to take? She moves to the underground world of crime where she learns how to commit credit card fraud, makes thousands of dollars with each job and fights off anyone trying to take what she’s earned – of course.

John Patton Ford’s Emily the Criminal is an engrossing thriller rooted in the economic injustice many face today. In a world of laws that allow exploitation of independent contractors and a chance at climbing the corporate ladder means starting as an unpaid intern, Emily refuses to keep her head down and play the game. Ford’s film harkens back to 90s thrillers that deal with the seedy underbelly of a city that represents greater issues in society. Shot in only twenty days, Emily the Criminal is a testament to great works born of indie spirit.

Emily (Aubrey Plaza) is doing her best to pay off the $70,000 in student loans she owes as a gig worker for a restaurant delivery app. Her attempts to get a steadier office job are soured when a criminal conviction in her past is constantly resurrected in her interviews. Unable to break through this glass ceiling, she checks out a clandestine “quick money” job recommended by her co-worker. The job involves using stolen credit card information to buy a big-screen TV, for which she gets $200 at the end. The jobs get bigger from there which leads to Emily working her own scheme with the help of seasoned fraudster Youcef (Theo Rossi). Her romance with Youcef mixes business with pleasure, making things complex and much more dangerous.

Plaza is phenomenal playing the no-nonsense title character. Her calm veneer belies a rage that bubbles with the frustration of everyone who’s trapped in a Sisyphean nightmare. Plaza is proving she can take on any role and imbue it with her inscrutable presence. Rossi fits in like a puzzle piece as her partner. The vulnerability he brings opens Emily up ever so slightly so that we can get a peek at what lies beneath the driven criminal.

This unknowable element to Emily is indicative of the kind of pulsing nerve protagonist employed by filmmakers like Michael Mann. Emily is filled with Mann-like qualities – from the determined criminal we empathize with to the ethereal use of Los Angeles as a backdrop. The writer-director refers to Emily as a Millennial Dirty Harry; someone who hits the breaking point and decides to make her own rules. As Emily puts it “motherfuckers will keep taking from you and taking from you until you make the goddamn rules yourself.”

At a time when stakes in films are inflated to galaxy threatening proportions, Emily the Criminal is dangerous and sexy in a way action thrillers were when their movie star leads were more schlubby bad-asses than quick-witted Adonis-like eunuchs. It’s not likely this one terrific film will end the stranglehold corporations have on the working class, but it’s certainly an empowering tale for everyone that can relate when Emily says “you work to the bone, it’s never enough.”

The 2022 Sundance Film Festival will be held January 20-30 online and on Satellite Screens across the United States. For more info, please visit the official website.

Written By

Kent Murai Wilhelm is a multimedia journalist born, raised, and based in New York City. He writes and makes photos, podcasts, and videos about film and local New York City stories. Kent attended SUNY Purchase, where he studied New Media, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He produces podcasts for The Atlantic Transmission and produced & hosted From Brooklyn With Love, a monthly deep-dive into the world of James Bond at Videology. https://letterboxd.com/Kwhc/

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Beyond The Black Rainbow – Austere, Cerebral, and Sometimes Maddening

Film

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 2)

Culture

Oz Pilot The Routine review Oz Pilot The Routine review

Oz: Revisiting the Pilot Episode of HBO’s Darkest Show

TV

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 1)

TV

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age of Television

TV

Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

15 Best Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

Film

The Wire Season 1 and 2 The Wire Season 1 and 2

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 1)

TV

Best of the Wire Best of the Wire

The Best of The Wire: A Superlative List

TV

Apple TV+’s The Big Conn is a Compelling but Overlong True Crime Series  

TV

We Own This City: Why You Should Be Watching the Anticipated Spiritual Sequel to The Wire

Culture

Jerry West and Mob Hits: HBO’s Winning Time and What Really Happened

TV

The Wire Season 3 The Wire Season 3

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 2)

TV

The Fifth Element retrospective The Fifth Element retrospective

The Fifth Element 25 Years Later: Still One of the Greatest Space Operas Ever

Film

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a Multiverse Muddle 

Film

best and worst of Star Trek best and worst of Star Trek

The Best and Worst of Star Trek

TV

Ranking Mission Impossible Ranking Mission Impossible

The Definitive Ranking of the Mission: Impossible Series

Film

Connect