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Wanting to test out my testosterone in boot camp I decided to try out
for the boxing team and went to the gym with a friend. Neither of us
knew anything about boxing. The coach put us both in the ring and said,
"Okay, let's see what you can do," or something equally Hemingwayesque.
On the first half-hearted swing, Andy dealt me a glancing blow on the
upper abdomen with a glove the size and density of a throw pillow. I
went down on my knees and grabbed the ropes, thinking I might die from
the pain. It had never occurred to me, watching the odd bout on TV,
that every time one of those guys got punched -- it hurt! End of boxing
career. This is the kind of movie in which, when somebody gets punched
in the belly, he goes down and stays down. For several days.
It's a movie for grown ups about grifters -- con people -- who work all sorts of games on one another. It's not "The Sting," which is funny and which is about "the big con," as it's evidently still called, requiring eons of preparation. This film is about people who cheat, artists in their own ways, but not theatrical producers.
John Cusack is handsome in a pale way and delivers a decent performance as a young man who plays "short cons", clipping people out of nickels, dimes, and dollars, although he's been doing it long enough to put away something of a stash.
Annette Bening, his girl friend, is much more into the life, with quite a history. She's very pretty too. She has a gracile figure and minces when she walks. In addition to the sleek clothes she occasionally has on in this film, she wears a big open-lipped smile, speaks in a breathless Marilyn Monroe whisper, and has eyes that sparkle with mischief and deceit. There is murder behind that grin.
Angelica Huston is a puzzle. She's excellent here as a woman who works for Bobo, Pat Hinkle, a pudgy sadist, his best role in a generation. But her appearance is disturbing. It's as if, during childhood, her skeleton couldn't quite make up its mind about how mannish to become, how broad the shoulders should be, how high and boney the pelvic girdle. I don't mean that she is in any way unfeminine because she's not. It's simply that, knowing what her Dad looks like, I see the resemblance as so marked that it's kind of embarrassing to find her attractive.
J. T. Walsh is perfect as the big con artist with that boyishly naive candor that sucks the marks in because it is nothing more than a psychopath's mask.
He has a sympathetic, believable face, though he was stand-offish in person, and it's a shame that he died at such a relatively early age because he's always been a pleasure to watch.
The story has some very dark undertones. It isn't just that Bening is trying to rope Cusak into the grifter's way of life, or that Huston and her son Cusak have been estranged for eight years, or that Huston is skimming off the top while working for Bobo the Dangerous, or that Cusak is trying to minimize his cons. These themes are interesting enough in themselves and would add up to something resembling "House of Games." But it's a lot more Freudian than that. Of all the forms of incest in the nuclear family, mother-son incest is the rarest. And when it happens, or even when the impulse manifests itself, it's a shocker. Huston and Bening, on first meeting, take an immediate dislike to one another and trade open insults. Bening: "I'm Roy's friend." Huston: "I imagine you're a lot of peoples' friend." Bening: "Oh -- NOW I see. Yes, in the light you look easily old enough to be Roy's mother." The hatred is based on a jealousy that only Bening is able to discern. Some outstanding script writing has gone on here.
The lighting and photography are at least up to par, whether out of doors in the sunshine of a race track or indoors, in the dismal dump Roy lives in, the salmon-colored murk of his walls, lamps, and furniture and the clown portraits on black velvet. The score is based on an ironic tinkling oompah tune," although it turns emphatically dramatic when the situation calls for it, and it neatly sidesteps the conventions of the genre.
Watch this if you have the chance. You'll think about it for some time afterward, the way I thought about that blow in the ring.
Here is a modern-day "film noir," if I ever saw one. You get sleazy
characters with no morals, brutal attitudes, some interesting
photography and a story that is not exactly a happy one - all the
ingredients of a good noir. Since the film is a 1990 one and not the
'40s and '50s (in which purists think that's the only period for
noirs), you also get nudity and profanity.
The best part of the film, to me, is the fact that the three leading characters are so interesting. You never know what these intriguing characters are going to do next. There is an odd mother-son relationship, too - very odd, between John Cusack and Angelica Huston who play "Lilly and Roy Dillon." The third person among this trio of "grifters" (scam artists) is played by Annette Bening, who never looked prettier or demonstrated her lack of morals better than she did here as the wicked "Myra Langtry." You can see all of Bening in this movie, and I mean all. Huston, on the other hand, tries to look sexy but is too hard-looking and certainly no competition for Bening, in age or looks. But Angelica is a terrific actress and I thought her character, was easily the most interesting of the three leads. Cusack, meanwhile, gives an underrated performance: one of the best in his career.
Three supporting guys in here are fantastic: Pat Hingle as "Bobo Justus," J.T. Walsh as "Cole," and Charles Napier as "Gloucester Hebbing." Overall, this is a wonderful cast that does full justice to this unusual crime story.
The story has a mean edge to it most of the way, but that's the style of writer Jim Thompson, who is a very good crime author who wrote the novel on which this movie is based. He has written several fascinating books. Donald Westlake, who wrote the screenplay, is a prolific crime story writer.
There is not a lot of action in this film but when it occurs, it is shocking and brutal. This movie always entertains me every time I view it.
Most films have one, and only one, protagonist around whom the story is
told. But "The Grifters" has three, all of them petty swindlers,
desperate for quick cash or good odds at a "long con". And it's the
personal relationships among these three criminals, complex, sometimes
dark, and almost always motivated by survival, that make this film a
pretty good bet.
Roy Dillon (John Cusack), is a trickster, a loner, "on the grift" for the "short con", strictly a nickels and dimes man. His mom is Lilly (Anjelica Huston); she's a middle-aged lady with white hair; she's seductive, cold-blooded, and tough as nails; she's been around the block a few times. Roy's love interest is Myra (Annette Bening), a shapely, fun loving babe who uses her charms to con rich businessmen. These three people are highly manipulative and scheming, on-guard, and mistrustful of each other and the rest of the world.
The film's tone is bleak and gloomy. There's very little "heart" in this film. And that's a problem, because I found these characters not very sympathetic. They lead lives of quiet desperation, grimy and tawdry. Still, "The Grifters" is a crime story in the best tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, a pulpy melodrama about the underbelly of urban America.
The film's structure is conventional, and contains a number of flashbacks. The set-up is tediously long. The second half of the film is better than the first half, in my opinion, because the second half contains more suspense.
Dialogue is direct and tough, like when Lilly makes her point to the ambulance driver who takes Roy to the hospital and is skeptical about Roy's chances for survival: Says Lilly: "My son is gonna be alright, if not, I'll have you killed". Later, she explains the facts of life to her son: "Grifts like anything else Roy, you don't stand still, you either go up or down, usually down, sooner or later". Yes indeed, it's a tough life being a "grifter"; but Lilly is one tough broad.
The film's color cinematography is fine. And the film has a terrific title sequence and a great Elmer Bernstein score at the beginning. Editing, costumes, and production design are all credible.
If you're in the mood for a gritty, bleak story of petty criminals in a well made modern film, "The Grifters" is a good choice. As a bonus, the DVD has an exceptionally good Commentary, with insightful comments from Director Stephen Frears, and actors John Cusack and Anjelica Huston.
Years ago, this was one of the films I was quite pleased with myself for
seeing. I didn't know much about it, but decided to take a chance on it,
with no regrets. From the opening sequence to the end credits I was
mesmerized and in awe of events that communicated an entirely alien
philosophy. Based on the novel by Jim Thompson, "The Grifters" tells a
of a world that lies just under the surface of the one we know of. That is
of course, if you count yourself among the squares and suckers who often
fall prey to the craftsmen of the grift.
With startling precision, intrigue and depth, the story unfolds chronicling the lives of three distinctly different yet intertwined individuals. Their setting and perspective is entirely foreign to the majority of us. The filmmakers portray the grifters' different methods and environments as skilled scam artists. For unless you've had a personal experience having fallen prey or gotten wise to a grifter's ploy, you'll simply have to accept the reality of it. They are out there, waiting for the suckers to be born.
This particularly dark tale is very stylishly directed and moves along at a good pace. Each turn offers another sneak peek into the games played and the tricks pulled. The prey are often unaware of their own victimization as they go on about their business.
Another aspect the film deals with is trust or the lack thereof. Our protagonists spend most of their time scamming, conning and tricking people so much that their sense of trust and decency breaks down. They alienate themselves from everyone, and ultimately can't even trust each other.
And of course, what drama would be complete without a twisted love triangle in the mix with betrayal and murder to keep it interesting. If this doesn't sound like another day at the office, you might just find the workplace of "The Grifters" intriguing. Seeing it today, I enjoyed it as much as I did years ago, before I opened my eyes for a fresh look at the world.
Stephen Frears directs this amazing adaption of a Jim Thompson book,
which deals with three grifters (a person who swindles one by means of
deception or fraud) who are tied to each other relationship-wise. Roy
Dillion (John Cusack) is a small town grifter recuperating after a
punch in the stomach for being found cheating. He finds his loyalties
torn between his girlfriend and estranged mother (Annette Benning and
Anjelica Huston, respectively), both of which are big time high-stakes
grifters. This film is tense, exiting, and well-acted, but make no
mistake about it, even though Cusack is more or less the main
character, this IS Anjelica Huston's movie through and through. Her
acting in this seems to shine so brightly and generally be on a higher
plateau than either Cusack or Benning can hope to ascend to in the
film. One of my favorite movies.
My Grade: A
DVD Extras: Commentary with Director Stephen Frears, Screenwriter Donald Westlake and Actors John Cusack and Angelica Huston; 16 minute Making of featurette; The Jim Thompson Story featurette; Publicity and Production stills); and Trailers for "Serendipity", "High Fidelity", Grosse Point Blank", & "40 Days And 40 Nights"
Eye Candy: The future Mrs. Warren Beatty shows everything
"The Grifters" is a quality piece of work that shows you a world you don't
often see. It's a seedy little world, but a fun one to spend two hours
Whenever I pass this film on cable, I always stop to watch a few minutes (and often more) because it contains some fantastic acting. Anjelica Houston, John Cusack and Annete Bening act their little tushies off. Cusack's portrayal of a low-level grifter with an Oedipal complex the size of Texas is some of his best work. Based on "American Beauty," everyone knows that Bening can act, but anyone who saw "The Grifters" knew that long ago. She does a bang-up job as (let's be frank) a con-artist slut.
This movie does have a few implausibilities, but nothing that spoils it. Otherwise, nothing but good things to say about this one. Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Grifters sees John Cusack play Roy Dillon, a grifter whose
loyalties are split between his con-artist girlfriend (Annette Bening)
and his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) in a tangled web of deceit
with bloody consequences.
Cusack puts in a good performance as the grifter, playing the short con, making money from people wherever he can, whilst trying to avoid being seduced into the long con by Myra (Bening), while also trying to resolve a bizarre, almost Oedipal relationship with his estranged mother Lilly (Huston). The slightly neurotic anti-hero with a humorous cool streak is the kind of role he can play in his sleep, and from what i hear is similar to his role in Ice Harvest (2005).
Bening is different. She's more lively than Cusack and certainly sleazier. Her pretty face, slimline figure, and cheerful willingness to strip off hide the vicious deceiver that lies underneath, and you can't help but feel concerned for Cusack as she tries to reel him into her scam.
Huston's performance is however the best of all, and Lilly remains the most complex character in The Grifters. From the moment she's introduced in Cusack's somewhat sparse apartment you can see there's more to this relationship than they let on; there's an obvious sexual tension sustained between the two until the film's climax. The darker side of her comes to light in the film's final third. Threatened on all sides, she becomes an animal fighting for survival, and shows that she will go to any length to get what she needs. Her killing Roy sums this up; while her initial reaction is one of maternal grief, she soon switches back into survival mode and quickly gets out.
The cinematography is fantastic. The Grifters really achieves the noir look thanks to some clever camera work, effective lighting, and somewhat austere scenery. The characters, especially Lilly and Myra, look the part, and you can clearly see the influences here. The score, while not used much, also contributes effectively to create a tense and sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere, but isn't afraid to be loud and dramatic when needs be.
However, The Grifters is not perfect. Despite solid performances, a decent script, and visual effectiveness, it seems to be missing something, and is unfortunately flawed as all good noir characters are. Perhaps it's a little too long, or the script isn't quite good enough, or the tempo is a tad too low...I couldn't put my finger on it.
These small factors don't detract too much from what is otherwise a very good film. Definitely worth watching.
When I casually flipped to this film (without even knowing what it was) I at first thought it was an exceptionally good film-noir. You might say the film snuck up on me- I was utterly unprepared for what I was about to see. I was drawn in closer and closer to the tangled web the three characters are stuck in, and utterly mesmerised by the performances. I don't think I have ever been so enthralled by a movie. After the intensely disturbing ending- which is not arbitrary, no matter what some of the reviews complained- I found myself unable to sleep. Rarely does a film have such an effect on me. THE GRIFTERS really does have to be seen to be totally understood; word fail one so easily when discussing great art.
Frears's 'The Grifters' is a bizarre noir-style disturbing thriller with dark undertones of themes such as despair, greed, incest and murder. Unlike most con thrillers, this one does not focus on tricks. Rather it focuses mainly on the characters. Lilly is in it big and she needs (or wants) money. Roy is frustrated and is in an ambivalent state. Myra, uses her weapon of seduction to have her way...including getting Roy back into the game. Then there's a fourth character, money. Which tangles them into a lethal web resulting in severely extreme consequences. It starts off a little slow as the three lead characters are introduced but the pace picks up in the proceedings. The twists and layers are well done as the viewers move back and forth into hating and liking the characters. The final sequence between Huston and Cusack is among the most unsettling scenes and it was brilliantly executed. Yet, 'The Grifters' is far from my favourite Frears film. I pretty much loved his other movies like 'High Fidelity', 'Dirty Pretty Things', 'Mrs. Hendersen Presents' and so on but I felt this movie lacked something even though I myself am a big sucker for weird movies. The three leads deliver solid performances. Cusack is finely restrained and quite intense. Bening is suitably perky, slutty and malicious. Huston is a knock out as she delivers a chilling performance. The score is quite low key (usually a piano track) except during dramatic sequences. The lighting has been well done. 'The Grifters' is intriguing and quite a departure from the usual con flick. In the end, it leaves an unsettling taste.
THE GRIFTERS (1990) ***1/2 John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette
Bening, Pat Hingle, J.T. Walsh, Charles Napier. Donald Westlake's
slick, serpentine screenplay adaptation of noir author Jim Thompson's
novel offers up a juicy, ripe slice of pulp fiction with hip Cusack a
slick con artist strictly small time, Huston as his duplicitous,
estranged Mobbed up mother on the take and Bening as his slinky gal pal
with a few cards up her collective sleeve.
Excellently executed in the rhythms of a perfectly coiled con game about to be sprung with slick precision thanks to fine acting all around and a jolting climax thanks to a steady helm by director Stephen Frears.
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