Monday, February 19 , 2018, 4:35 am | Fair 48º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Criminal’

3 Stars — Thought Provoking

Most of us are just waking up to the realization that the Internet, which has taken over our lives in retail, email and every other form of communication, is not only one of our greatest catalysts for shifting our global culture, but it is also the new and most dangerous platform for global warfare since the atomic bomb.

It has the capability to wipe out a nation’s economy and military in an instant. Our 21st-century global economy cannot function without vast computer networks, which makes us vulnerable to skilled hackers who do not have to be nearby to use it to attack us.

Criminal paints a sobering look at what this could mean. Equally important, it shows the parallel transformation in our ability to justify whatever is necessary to stop this threat — including the suspension of constitutional and human rights.

In this case, we see governments collaborate to retrieve the memory of a CIA agent by inserting his brain waves into a psychotic prisoner named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) so they can retrieve key bits of information.

Stewart is not an innocent or sympathetic character, nor is he likely redeemable as a functioning and productive human being. Needless to say, except for his constitutional rights, he is the kind of person that most people would be more than willing to sacrifice for the good of society.

Here is where the new paradigm of global interconnection makes ethical decisions far murkier than in the past. There aren’t a lot of precedents for this level of risk to the extinction of societies where individual brilliant hackers, rather than heads of state, hold their finger on the trigger in global warfare. With that at stake, what is justifiable to stop it?

At its core, Criminal tells the story of a computer programmer who has decided to expose various world powers and their ability to use the Internet for warfare. Similar to the famed CIA programmer Edward Snowden, who exposed the U.S. government’s ability to globally monitor all phone calls, Stewart decides to sell his key knowledge about how it is done to the highest bidder. Needless to say, there are many governments and rouge individuals that would be willing to pay handsomely for this control of power.

Unfortunately, Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), the only CIA operative who knows where he is hiding, has been assassinated and the government turns to an experimental medical option that involves transferring the dying agent’s knowledge into another living brain. Since this exposes ethical and moral questions, those who know about it quickly but quietly authorize its immediate trial using Stewart as an unwilling federal prisoner.

Without giving away the story, after the operation what follows involves a series of unintended good and bad consequences. Stewart remembers details of Pope’s personal life before he was assassinated and he seeks out and inserts himself in Pope’s wife and daughter’s personal lives in an attempt to understand what has happened to himself.

This leads to new fears and behaviors that hadn’t been anticipated. On the other hand, Stewart begins to feel real feelings which, as a psychopath, he had never felt before nor had he understood or appreciated.

What transpires by the end of the story is an expanded understanding of the brave new world in which we live, including whether these kinds of activities could be viewed as medically helpful in healing past wounds. At the same time, the multitude of ethical questions facing our societies in the 21st century become self-evident.

These ethical or moral dilemmas are not in the purview of government, but rather in the realm of spiritual and social behaviors. Without people of courage exercising leadership and speaking about these challenges from the pulpits or in classrooms, we may be more than troubled when we hear the answers that emerge from the political and military leaders throughout the world to whom we have deferred the question.


» If you were the person in government responsible to approve or deny this procedure, what would you do and why?

» The interconnectedness of most of the developed world through the Internet could be a great opportunity for unity. Do you think unity or criminality will win out? Why do you answer as you do?

» The expansion of nuclear weapons with more fingers on their launching has increased the danger of annihilation. Do you think the exponential number of fingers on the internet puts us in greater danger? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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