91 user 57 critic

The Grifters (1990)

A small-time conman has torn loyalties between his estranged mother and new girlfriend--both of whom are high-stakes grifters with their own angles to play.



(novel), (screenplay)

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Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 9 wins & 15 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Weems ...
Racetrack Announcer
Richard Holden ...
Lou Hancock ...
Noelle Harling ...
Nurse Carol Flynn


Lily works for a bookie, placing bets to change the odds at the track. When her son is hospitalized after an unsuccessful con job and resultant beating, she finds that even an absentee parent has feelings for her child. This causes her own job to go wrong as well. Each of them faces the down side of the grift. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Seduction. Betrayal. Murder. Who's Conning Who?


Crime | Drama | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:




Release Date:

25 January 1991 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Ambiciones prohibidas  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$13,446,769 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Many of the lines in the film are taken word for word from the book of the same title. See more »


In the train, when Roy is grifting the sailors, you can see that he is only rolling one die at a time. However, you can distinctly hear him drop two dice (out of the frame) to the table at the end of the game. See more »


[first lines]
Voice-over: Around the country the bookies pay off winners at track odds. It's dangerous when a long shot comes in. Unless you have somebody at the tracks to lower those odds.
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Features The Lady Vanishes (1938) See more »


Performed by Dreamworld
Words & Music by Pete Theodore and Emilie A. Bernstein (as Emily Bernstein)
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Excellent But Dark As Night
23 July 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Spoilers Ahead:

Yes, fantastic acting, writing and directing. The director also did that little jewel Liam that is a real buried treasure. Everybody in the movie, including a nurse, is an amoral, conniving louse. Just acclimate yourself, because this short little film is a treasure. It sank like a brick in a pool when released mainly for the incest theme between Huston and Cusack. Huston does her best work in the movie, attracted to Roy, and his money she oozes hatred,"I'll bet you are lots of peoples' friend," she snarls at Benning. Huston has been scamming Hingle her boss who has her lower the odds on horse races by betting on the other horses to flatten the equation. We see her, even from the start, secreting money away in the trunk that she is ripping off from Hingle. Cusack plays a little change game with switcho chango with a twenty turning into a ten with the wrong bartender who damages him badly. Huston comes to the rescue; that costs her a cigar burn on her hand from Hingle for letting a long shot come in while she was tending to her son Roy. There is sexual tension between these two that is well done, she is still interested, mainly in his hidden money, though she feigns motherly concern for him. The concern is disturbingly sexual and it bothers Roy.

You will never see Annette Benning this hot and totally nude in scene after scene. She uses her body like we use a doorknob to not pay rent, to string Roy into the Big Con, that she lusts to return to. In flashback, we see that here earlier partner J.T. Walsh went bonkers from the stress. She has Roy all sized up for her new partner; the trouble is, his mother Huston detests her. Benning begins ratting Huston out to Hingle and following her with intent on killing her. I will not spoil it; a big plot twist happens. Before you watch this, do you mind if every character in the movie is an immoral scum bucket? It is not for kiddies, it features full frontal nudity, extended shots, and incest. The incest is not consummated but Lilly does her best. Like Body Heat, if you take out all the sensational sex and violence this could have been made in the 40s or 50s.

I must warn you; I see reviewers who love this movie like I do but have never met one in real life. All my friends and family had the same reaction to this as they did Blue Velvet: that is one disgusting, ugly, dark movie. It has such a sense of reality about it and the acting is fantastic. Frear's gets really great performances, I consider this the best of its kind since the 50s. It has a scene with Hingle threatening to beat Lilly with a bag of oranges as punishment he settles for burning her hand with his cigar. It is not a pretty scene; she is terrified, and BoBo is quite a nasty, mean sack of crap. The movie is quite short and moves like lightning. Walsh is great in his little role. Just remember, great movie but dark as midnight.

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