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 <email@example.com>
Man, talk about a slow-burn. Going into The Grifters I was expecting a slick and quick-paced con thriller, but what I got was something much darker and much more absorbing. Director Stephen Frears, working off a script by Donald Westlake (adapted from the Jim Thompson novel) lets these characters get established before they start to bring us into the tangled web they are all weaving.
Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a con man pulling small jobs every day to slowly build up his savings, while his girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) is doing anything she can to get by and his mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) is working on a long play of her own. The tagline of "Who's conning who?" always makes me roll my eyes, but it's actually an accurate portrayal here, as these three play each other back and forth, while the film itself is pulling the veil over the audience.
The Grifters is a brooding noir that throws back a lot to the '40s and it's Hitchcock roots, including some direct homages that feel appropriate for the story rather than cheap rip-offs. The film delves into some potentially melodramatic moments at times, but Frears is able to keep things in tune with it's seething roots as opposed to letting things get too theatrical.
All three actors are working at top form here; Cusack was just starting to break out and this role should really be considered more among the best of his career, Huston steals the show in every scene and Bening (someone I've always despised) is seductive and very compelling. I thought that Bening was phoning it in a bit at first, but as more is revealed about the character you realize that she's conning herself as much as she is everyone else. Frears crafts this one with a great tone that the actors play into very well, with some powerful sexual undertones and a dynamite finale.
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