104 user 68 critic

The Grifters (1990)

1:41 | Trailer
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.


Stephen Frears


Jim Thompson (novel), Donald E. Westlake (screenplay)
Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 10 wins & 17 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Anjelica Huston ... Lilly Dillon
John Cusack ... Roy Dillon
Annette Bening ... Myra Langtry
Jan Munroe ... Guy at Bar
Robert Weems Robert Weems ... Racetrack Announcer
Stephen Tobolowsky ... Jeweler
Jimmy Noonan ... Bartender
Richard Holden Richard Holden ... Cop
Henry Jones ... Simms
Michael Laskin ... Irv
Eddie Jones ... Mintz
Sandy Baron ... Doctor
Lou Hancock ... Nurse
Gailard Sartain ... Joe
Noelle Harling 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:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Stephen Tobolowsky and Eddie Jones later appeared in Sneakers (1992). See more »


At the end of the movie when Lilly is leaving Roy's apartment with his money, blood is clearly visible on her knees and calves. But moments later when she is going down in the elevator, her legs are clean. 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.
See more »


Featured in Great Directors (2009) See more »


Performed by Dreamworld
Words & Music by Pete Theodore and Emilie A. Bernstein (as Emily Bernstein)
See more »

User Reviews

From another era.
2 February 2012 | by Rockwell_CronenbergSee all my reviews

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.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 104 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »


Official Sites:

Official site


USA | Canada



Release Date:

25 January 1991 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Grifters See more »

Filming Locations:

Arizona, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$71,034, 9 December 1990

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cineplex Odeon Films See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Stereo



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed