Film Review: ‘November Criminals’

Ansel Elgort and Chloë Grace Moretz star in a high-school homicide thriller that looks like an actual movie. But appearances can be deceiving.

Sacha Gervasi
Ansel Elgort, Chloë Grace Moretz, Catherine Keener, David Strathairn, Terry Kinney, Danny Flaherty, Cory Hardrict, Victor Williams, Allie Marshall.
Release Date:
Dec 8, 2017

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3266284/

A movie needs no ambition beyond the modest desire to occupy a viewer’s time. But in our spilling-over-with-content world, there are still movies that can make you wonder: Why does this film even exist? Take “November Criminals.” It’s a grade-Z teen homicide thriller that, judged solely by its IMDb page, has what you might almost call a pedigree.

The movie’s stars, Ansel Elgort and Chloë Grace Moretz, bring their puppyish glitter-kid sparkle to the role of high-school seniors who are boyfriend and girlfriend (but not really) in suburban Washington, D.C. The film also features David Strathairn and Catherine Keener as their respective single parents, and it was directed by Sacha Gervasi, the British crossover documentary maverick who made “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (2009) and the factually fraudulent but still enjoyable making-of-“Psycho” docudrama “Hitchcock” (2012). It all sounds respectable enough, but “November Criminals,” which opened on VOD ahead of its nominal theatrical release next week, has the spirit of what used to be called a straight-to-tape thriller. The most pressing dramatic issue it raises is why you’re bothering to watch it.

Not that it’s awful, exactly. It’s a low-budget generic shrug of a movie, one that recycles clichés both ancient (testy drug dealers) and slightly less ancient (the hero films his life with a camcorder). Ansel Elgort acquired cred with “Baby Driver,” but he can still leave you feeling like you’re seeing the second coming of Ashton Kutcher; he’s ingenuously baby-faced in a blank and slightly unctuous way. Elgort and Moretz play Addison and Phoebewho transition into being more than friends when she asks him if they can lose their virginity together, all as a strictly practical warm-up for college. The two go through the motions of lovemaking as if it were a science experiment, but the joke is that — shucks! — they’re attracted to each other. They just won’t admit it.

All of this sounds like the plot of a bigger-budgeted teen potboiler entitled something like “First Time’s the Charm” — but, in fact, it’s got nothing to do with anything. “November Criminals” gets rolling when the two wander into a boutique coffee shop, where Addison’s buddy Kevin (Jared Kemp) works as a barista (they’re literary hipsters who exchange talk about “The Aeneid” and James Baldwin), and minutes later a dude drives up on a motorcycle and enters the shop, where he kills Kevin at point-blank range.

Kevin looked wholesome as could be, but it takes the police about three minutes to decide that it’s a gang murder. Addison, still reeling from the sudden death of his mother by aneurysm, is the only one who’s certain that it must be otherwise. He tries to talk to the cops, and to raise the issue at a “healing” school assembly, but no one wants to listen. It’s as if the world is in on a conspiracy, and a racist one, since the presumption of gang violence is based on the fact that Kevin was black. But that’s really just the sound of a middling movie stacking the deck.

“November Criminals” is almost a fragment — less a B-movie than a B-anecdote. Elgort glums himself out (but still seems overly self-satisfied), until Addison pays a visit to Kevin’s parents, who reveal a key clue in his death: a satchel stuffed with illegal pills. Addison investigates, like a Hardy Boy out of his depth. He uncovers what happened but winds up shot and in the hospital, which is supposed to provide the film with some sort of tidy moral closure. The message: Even the truth can mask a lie. Every so often, Moretz shows up to beam at Elgort and simultaneously give him a hard time; Strathairn and Keener, as the clueless concerned parents, look weary with the pretense of stretching paycheck roles into something more. Like the rest of “November Criminals,” they seem to be asking a question — What are we doing here? — that the movie never gets around to answering.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'November Criminals'

Reviewed On Demand, Dec. 1, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Stage 6 Films, Vertical Entertainment release of a Back Bicycle Entertainment, Lotus Entertainment production. Producers: Mark Bienstock, Ara Keshishian, Beth O’Neil, Erika Olde. Executive producers: Jessica de Rothschild, Trevor Duke-Moretz, D.J. Guggenheim, Bill Johnson, Steven Knight, Teri Duke Moretz, Jim Seibel, Angus Sutherland.

Crew: Director: Sacha Gervasi. Screenplay: Sacha Gervasi, Steven Knight. Camera (color, widescreen): Mihai Malaimare. Editor: Martin Pensa.

With: Ansel Elgort, Chloë Grace Moretz, Catherine Keener, David Strathairn, Terry Kinney, Danny Flaherty, Cory Hardrict, Victor Williams, Allie Marshall.

More Film

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content