Emily’s spiraling exists alongside the put-upon impatience that Plaza has exhibited in all of her major roles, and it comes out here in how Emily is totally unable to be accommodating. Every interaction pre- and post-credit card fraud can be placed on a ‘will she blow up’ scale. This is sometimes invigorating, especially in a late-film cameo that puts Emily firmly on the ‘yes, she will’ end, but it’s just as often that her irritation and lashing out gets her further away from a place of comfort and closer to a bad end. Ford gives the viewer Emily’s frustrations and her satisfactions. It would be delicious to tell off an employer with nothing to offer you, just like it would be hard to keep a whining puppy in its crate when a friend asks you to dogsit. For all the catharsis, calling the employer a vulture and snuggling the puppy result in no job and puddles of dog piss.
Ford becomes a director to watch by steering Plaza through a well-deserved star vehicle and cultivating her smoldering chemistry with Rossi. He also creates a high-tension LA story where palms get sweaty regardless of whether the prize is $200 or $200,000. Emily the Criminal exists firmly in the real world, where violence is visceral and scary and has ramifications. This lacks the profile and the mythic nature of Heat or Drive, but it can stand comfortably next to them as another entry into the sweaty and shady goings-on of working class Angelenos. B+