Two curious teenagers are on the hunt for the killer of their friend’s untimely death, in ‘November Criminals’. Based on Sam Munson’s 2010 of the same name, the story revolves around 18-year-old Addison Schacht (Ansel Elgort), a Jewish high-school senior in Washington D.C with a careless attitude and a beautiful girlfriend (Chloe Moretz) to boot. After a typical routine of coffee and conversation with her, Addison receives the devastating news that one of his closest friends has been gunned down in the very coffee shop that Addison frequented only minutes prior. After the police investigation offers little results, Addison decides to open an investigation of his own, seeking information to anyone who might know the details of this terrible tragedy. What comes of it will have him discovering new details regarding his friend, as well as a self-examination of his own life that has been through recent turmoil. ‘November Criminals’ is written and directed by Sacha Gervasi, and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including teen sexuality, drug material, brief violence and strong adult language.
Whether you like or dislike a film, it usually succeeds in leaving a lasting memory with that one watch. Then along comes a film like ‘November Criminals’, and totally swerves the concept of such logic with a movie so inept and ineffective that it fails to garner any kind of remote emotional response that hammers home the proof in its result. This film belongs exclusively on Freeform, a cable television channel geared towards teenagers who embrace a show like ‘Pretty Little Liars’. However, unlike that show, Gervasi’s crime drama comes across with such miniscule effort that drowns it in a sea of obscurity as a result of a tone-deaf atmosphere and entertainingly lagging screenplay. This is a script that knows it suffers from the simplicity of its plain direction, and because the majority of the film rests on Gervasi’s shoulders, he requires the addition of two Hollywood starlets in making it interesting for his teenage audience. But this is one lesson that will mature those moviegoers fruitfully, as ‘November Criminals’ is arguably the most boring film that I have seen this year.
Most of that distinction falls heavily on a script that is all over the place in terms of tonal complexity, as well as firmly planted feet in calculation that keep it from ever reaching above and beyond. Clocking in at 80 measly minutes, ‘November Criminals’ never puts in the time and effort in establishing the unions all around that establish the dramatic circumference of the film’s emotional material. The loss of Addison’s friend comes and goes without much resonance internally because the film rushes through the set-up that anyone who watches the trailer or reads the plot knows is coming from a mile away. On top of this, the film is constantly trying to establish itself as the lost chapter of a John Hughes movie that was never good enough to see the light of day. I say this because the mood of this film feels like it is appealing to a hip perspective that feels parallel to the events that transpire. With a more committed approach to drama, this could’ve benefited not only the versatility of the story that constantly remains on one-layer, but also in the performances of the cast that are often the deer reacting to the bright headlights above.
On the subject of some of those cast members, the chemistry within Elgort and Moretz is certainly evident, but the film’s script gives them such little wiggle room in free range of character deposition that they almost have to approach these people as self-representations. Elgort’s Addison is easily my favorite character of the movie, reeling from an emotional surrender to his own life prior to the loss of his fallen friend that paints a fragile being. My problem is that the film only hints at this blurry past and doesn’t exactly give us a illuminating epiphany in drawing the two events of past and present together to reflective territory that bring to light their ironies. Moretz plays Phoebe in the same way that she has approached every teenage character not named Hit-Girl, with a lack of great concern and gravity that establishes her influence on the role. Moretz warming smile and endearing soft delivery appealed to her tender side, but the character never has the energy or passion from within to ever make this feel like anything other than a paycheck role. It was great to see David Strathairn and Catherine Keener as the parental units of the previously listed, but this is a teen story first and foremost, so the brief offering of adult influence is something that is unfortunately only for the temporary.
Perhaps the strongest in terms of negatives for the movie is in that of its mystery that leaves much more to be desired. This is first and foremost a crime mystery, yet Gervasi as a screenwriter approaches this aspect as uninterested, pursuing the film’s greatest possible strength at nothing more than face value. Tweeking with the aspect of possible suspects and scenarios could’ve done great wonders in enhancing the conundrum of this fallen friend, as well as padded out the runtime to give the film that big screen presentation that it greatly lacked. As a result of no mystery, there also feels like there is this noticeable void of urgency that the film could never find itself on the same side of. There was never a point during this film when I felt like the movie was building to anything bigger, and because of such, it’s often difficult to determine when one act begins and another one ends abruptly.
Not all is a negative however, as Gervasi’s presentational aspects lend themselves to some of the more capable perks within the film’s properties. There is exceptional framing within the film, especially considering there is an array of scenes that involve more than one character. There’s also not a lot of cuts or overdone edits between scenes that build the chemistry of Addison and Phoebe, bridging together what feels like some impressively done long-shots in manipulation that could impress the right kind of film lover. The shooting locations were also eye-catching and quite synthetic to the kind of details in the novel that painted a vivid detail in imagination. The high school itself looks like a college because of its immensity, bringing to mind the ideal that this masked gunman’s identity promote on a wider scale. These aspects didn’t champion in a film that was anywhere near as strong as promoted, but they did make the sometimes enduring challenge of a heartless sit that much more appealing by proxy.
THE VERDICT – It is criminal to think that Gervasi’s film is anywhere up to the kind of intrigue in teenage dramas that are getting smarter with each passing generation. ‘November Criminals’ is a film that is lacking mystery in development, identity in character, and satisfaction in an ending that is every bit as conventional as it is dull. Elgort and Moretz are appealing, but the lack of depth in script hinders them from ever elevating their character’s lasting power. There are certainly worse films this year, but very few as boring as this drama that tries to be smarter than it rightfully is.