by Rob DiCristino
Why do outlaw stories make for such great cinema? There’s the power fantasy, for one thing, the thrill of watching an enterprising gangster expand their empire through savvy and ruthlessness. There’s the romance of rebellion, as well. It feels good to break the rules, to expose the hypocrisies of a society built to help the powerful stay prosperous and keep the rest of us on our knees. Americans, in particular, have always been drawn to the outlaw hero, whose unique code of fairness and justice sends our usual indifferent, bureaucratic systems into chaos. It’s cathartic. It’s freeing. Rules are meant to be broken, says the child within us, and an ideal world would make enough room for everyone to do whatever they want. But these outlaw stories often double as morality plays, cautionary tales of corruptive ambition or sociopathic greed. The center cannot hold, and sooner or later our hero will pay the price for their deviance. But what if it wasn’t our hero who was deviant? What if it was the system itself? Who pays then?
Things get complicated, of course, as Emily doesn’t serve the most reputable clientele. They try the usual tricks and intimidation schemes, with one pair of grifters even breaking into her home and robbing her at knifepoint. Undeterred, Emily simply follows them back to their pickup truck and introduces them to her taser. Because while Emily may have her back against the wall, no one — and this is important — no one fucks with Emily. She’s been fucked enough. By her friends. By her managers. By banks. By prospective employers who dangle her conviction over her head for the fun of it. By the ex who got her the conviction in the first place. Emily is done. She knows what she’s worth and will do what it takes to get it. “You’re a bad influence,” says Youcef when the new lovers decide to take down his unsavory partners. But she’s not. She’s standing up for herself. She’s standing up for Youcef. Emily and her peers made a deal with the universe: Hard work gets rewarded. And she’s tired of being stiffed on the bill.Black Bear, and co-producing under her Evil Hag banner — perfectly balances Emily’s earnest ambition with an indignant rage that gradually boils over as she comes to these realizations. Ford’s handheld camera follows closely as she sweats and bleeds for every cent, capturing the panic and isolation of extra-legal entrepreneurship. Emily the Criminal is an anthem for a lost generation, a stirring reminder that no one gives it to you. You have to take it.