Criminal Activities is a small budget neo-noir marketed as a John Travolta film, and though Travolta is great in this film and if you are a fan it is a must watch, he has a fairly small role. The real star for this film is Jackie Earle Haley. Haley took a script from the 1970’s that has been shelved for decades, rewrote it for a more modern time and changed some of the story. He did this without taking a screenplay credit. This is also his directorial debut and he also has a small but great role in the film.
This story starts with a young man that dies, it looks like suicide or an accident, but was it murder? He is hit by a bus, but was very paranoid in the days leading up to the incident. When four classmates meet up at the funeral, a drink leads to smoking weed in a car and talking. When one friend mentions some insider information on a stock, the four decide to go in as partners on the deal. Another says he can get the money and they can split the profits after they sell the stock. When the information backfires and the stock is worthless, they find out they have to payback a mob boss at a large premium. When they cannot pay it back the mob boss has the four friends commit a kidnapping to pay off the debt. This is where things get interesting.
Travolta plays the mob boss and Haley plays one of his thugs. Michael Pitt, Christopher Abbott, Rob Brown and Dan Stevens play the four friends. Stevens’ work is something that has stood out to me lately in small films. The Guest is another small film he is in that is well worth checking out. Edi Gathegi is also great as the kidnap victim.
I have always enjoyed Haley as an actor, but now I also look forward to his work behind the camera. If you are a noir fan and have been skipping by this film thinking it is another low budget Travolta vehicle, you need to stop. Not only is Travolta a minor character in this film, he is also at his best. This is the best Travolta I have seen in the last 10 years. This is a very good film I really enjoyed and I think neo noir fans will enjoy it too.