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Confidence (2003)

Its not about the money. Its about the money.

Directed by:

James Foley

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: United States

'So I'm dead' says the voice of Jake Vig (Ed Burns) at the beginning of 'Confidence', as we see his bullet-riddled body lying in the street, 'and I think it's because of this redhead'. Spool back a bit, and there's Jake, with a gun pointed at his head, forced to narrate the events which led up to his present, fateful predicament (just like the beginning of 'Fight Club').

Three weeks earlier, Jake and his crew have swindled a large amount of cash from a man, not realising that he is the accountant to unstable crimelord Winston King (Dustin Hoffman). So Jake offers to make amends in the only way he can – by going on the grift for King – but between a pocket-picking femme fatale (Rachel Weisz), a goon assigned by King to keep an eye on things (Franky G), a pair of corrupt LA cops (Donal Logue and Luis Guzman), a special agent with a vendetta (Andy Garcia), a ruthless banker for the mob (Robert Forster), the banker's enforcer (Morris Chestnut) and a whole string of bad omens, it would seem that Jake's chips are down and his fate is already sealed. Except that Jake is the last person in the world that anyone should take at his word, and nothing is quite what it seems…

The true master of confidence trick films, against whom all others must be measured, is David Mamet ('House of Cards', 'The Spanish Prisoner', 'Heist') – and while Doug Jung's script for 'Confidence' certainly rivals anything by Mamet for the choppy, colloquial crispness of its dialogue, at the same time it lacks something of the intricacy of Mamet's plotting, the 'solution', when it comes, being not quite as complicated or surprising as it might have been. Nonetheless, the film cracks along at such a pace that you barely have time to notice all the significant gestures and ambiguous lines that point to what is really going on.

In a confidence trick film, it is important for viewers to keep their eye on the ball, but even more important for the ball to keep ducking and reeling and disappearing from view. So the poker-faced cool of Burns and Weisz never breaks, making them suitably inscrutable to the end. Dustin Hoffman puts in an outstandingly edgy turn as the wheelerdealer with ADHD ('the important word is the H – hyperactivity') – he is all over the place, one moment avuncular, next lascivious, then moralistic, and always indefinably menacing with his manic grin, and changing the subject so rapidly that it simply becomes impossible to focus on what is significant to the plot in his scenes and what is not.

Less convincing, however, was Andy Garcia, who puts in an uncharacteristic piece of overacting – although in a film where everyone is wearing a mask, the viewer is left wondering whether the histrionics are coming just from the actor, or also from the character that he is playing. In fact the film is itself like a confidence trick – a crew has been assembled and directed, everyone is playing their part, and a fantasy is being peddled – and we the viewers are ultimately its intended mark, even if we come out smiling (as suckers so often do).

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It's Got: Sharp ensemble performances, great lines, stark noirish cinematography

It Needs: Further complications and reversals - after The Usual Suspects, we expect a little more from an unreliable narrator

Alternatives:

Grifters, Heist, House of Cards, The Sting, Things To Do In Denver When Youre Dead

Summary

A good con film, but unfortunately in a world full of great ones. Worth, however, seeing more than once, which cannot be said of a lot of other films.

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