The key to making a decent movie about grifters is in creating the right cast. James Foley got it right when he made Confidence. Not only did he hit on Edward Burns and Rachel Weisz as the star couple at the heart of this tale of cons and scams, but he also threw in ace character actors Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzmán, the fading Andy Garcia and, his piece de resistance, Dustin Hoffman.
The convoluted story – and stick with me while I attempt to make some semblance of sense of this – centres on career conman Jake Vig (Burns) who, in an attempt to clear himself of a debt he owes to local hood The King (Hoffman) decides to go on the offensive by pulling off a scam that will net his gang millions while simultaneously bringing the might of the law down on King.
It begins when Jake’s gang loses a man: Big Al is found with a bullet in his head. The man behind the killing is King, who wants back the $150,000 Jake and his cronies took from him. Big Al was killed as punishment and a warning.
To clear the debt Jake and the boys agree to pull a stunt for King by ripping off his business rival Morgan Price (Robert Forster) to the tune of $5 million.
And to be sure Jake doesn’t go walkabout with the cash, King puts two new players in the game: one of his own men and a beautiful brunette named Lily (Weisz). With the rules drawn and everything in place, all Jake has to do is remain his calm and collected self…
Confidence is the kind of movie that really shouldn’t get made these days. As Hollywood’s stranglehold tightens it is increasingly difficult for anyone to make anything that falls outside the narrow parameters that have been constructed over the last decade or so.
In essence this is a delicious throwback to those great old cerebral dramas of the past. Foley dwells on character, dialogue (Burns narrates his own story to a man with a gun to his head), style and a tremendous ensemble. Alongside Jake, his gang and the King are two bent cops, a shady federal agent and some innocents so gullible they could be spoon-fed regurgitated slop and they’d swallow it.
This is sharp (Burns), sexy (Weisz), seedy (Hoffman) and solid (everyone else). The script, by Doug Jung, flows with double-talk, cons within cons, red herrings and intricate twists. This is film noir with a small ‘n’ – an old-fashioned film given a modern gloss with a cast firing on all cylinders.
Foley, best known for Glengarry Glen Ross, gives each actor a chance to do something personal. Garcia, so often the pretty boy of the picture, wears a greying beard, hat and a suit a drunk would be proud of. Burns is the epitome of the hard-working grifter. Weisz is every inch the vampish working girl. And Hoffman, all tics and touchy-feely creepiness, inhabits the role of a man who is as much a dirty old man as he is a killer crimelord.
With an over reliance on flashbacks and the neatness of its plot, Confidence is, perhaps, an over-confident undertaking. It’s a small fault in an otherwise faultless movie – unless you consider the fact that everyone is such a sh*t that, by the time the credits rolls, you realise you don’t really care one jot about any of them.
Star rating: ****