The Grifters (1990) (R)

Con men are a very often addressed issue in film. Dating back to the "Rat Pack" days and when the original "Ocean's Eleven" was released, we always like to cheer for the smart, sexy bad guy. After all, the people they are taking money from aren't really good are they? We always see con men with hearts of gold who steal because they have a vendetta against the person they are stealing from or because it's all they know—it's what their daddy taught them. Rarely are we given equal parts the grifters and the grift-ees. I can't think of one movie where you want both sides to win and can choose between them, maybe that would be impossible to write.
"The Grifters" tries to show how hard life can be like as a grifters, a con man; but it doesn't work. Throughout all the drama and murder the grifters still dress nicer than anyone else, look nicer than anyone else, and have more fun than anyone else.
"The Grifters" is a fairly plotless movie that follows the doings of a wannabe con man, his mother, and his girlfriend—both of the women are con artists as well. But none of them know that the other on is a grifter.
The mother, Lilly, is in the middle of a job that she's been doing for a boss for a long time. It looks like she might never get out of that situations, but she's content. Myra is a loose cannon, going from here to there and flaunting herself to get out of tough situations, or to get a couple extra bucks.
Roy doesn't really have an arena to perform his con artistry, he does simple things like ripping off people at the bar and collecting a few extra dollars here and there—how is it, then, that he has the most money of the three of them? Maybe Lilly has more, but he's close.
What takes place in the first half of the movie is just set-up. We watch the characters and see how they interact with each other and how they learn that the other one is a con artist.
Nothing really happens. Roy gets hit by a bartender and ends up in a hospital where the three main characters meet and things are said and then....still nothing.
References are made to the "long con" but nothing is done, we hope that there is a long con coming. The real long con of the movie is fooling you into thinking that something is going to happen.
Finally, there is some sort of crisis that sets are balls rolling and the action starts to pick up, but that only leaves half-an-hour left of the film.
Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play Lilly and Myra both and it's these women that steal the show. Regrettably the movie couldn't just be about them.
Then we have John Cusack as Roy and he seems very much like Nicholas Cage in all of his movies. He's deadpan, monotone, and just not that interesting on screen. Why cast him as the eccentric lead grifter? I will never know.
For what it is, "The Grifters" works fairly well. There are no big reveals but the ending is really good. Scorsese produced this picture and his influences can be seen, mostly the lack of a coherent plot. Although all of Scorsese's pictures are fun to watch, "The Grifters" was somewhat of a hassle.
It was lacking a certain connectively and intrigue to make it great.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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