“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1991 / Director: Stephen Frears / Actors: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack ... / DVD released 24 September, 2002 at Miramax / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Colour, DVD-Video, NTSC, Widescreen „
The Grifters is not the sort of film I would usually choose to watch, but I'm a John Cusack fan and I also enjoy watching film noir, so when a friend recommended this film to me I was intrigued to watch it.
The plot follows Roy Dillon, played by Cusack, whose life is a strange concoction of mystery, secrecy and subtle action. Dillon is in a relationship with a woman called Myra who is equally mysterious but also seemingly innocent. She is a bubbly character but also clearly trouble in other ways. We soon learn that both characters are in the con-artist business; they are 'grifters'; and this is represented throughout the film by the master of grift, Dillon's mother Lily, who seems to be one of the best con-women around.
The opening sequence focuses on Lily, her elegantly-dressed and smoothly-moving body and her immaculately painted and poised face as she puts bets on horses in order to tilt the odds in her favour. This woman oozes sex appeal and confidence and she is tantalising to watch. Whenever she is on screen it is artistically done, and we know immediately that the grift is Lily's life and calling. It all seems great too until we learn that she works for a sort-of mobster named 'Bobo' who doesn't treat his employees particularly well, at least not with any ethics if they anger him, and before we begin to see the downsides to Lily's chosen career.
When Lily comes back into Roy's life after a long time apart we find a bizarre sexually charged relationship that is addictive to watch. It's also a little sick. Roy does not refer to Lily as his mother initially; he only uses this word against her out of spite, so the fact that he calls her Lily tricks the viewer into forgetting that she actually gave birth to him. It's hard to believe that she did, because of their strange relationship; in almost every scene featuring them I expected them to give into fits of violent, incestuous passion. But it's also easy to believe that Lily is Roy's mother because of the strangeness and coolness of their characters; they are both very secretive, for example. As the film progresses we learn more about Roy's history through flashbacks in the film and also through his dialogue with his mother. The female characters remain mysterious as we do not get such insights about them.
Roy is a 'short-con' grifter which means that he tricks people out of money using short-term, well-used techniques. For example, throughout the film Roy tricks bartenders into giving him free drinks plus extra cash by hailing them with a large dollar bill and then slyly swapping it for a smaller note without them noticing. He does this with panache and it's all rather clever, we think, until we realise that when Roy makes a mistake on the grift, it can cost him his life.
Because of this, Roy's mother wants him to stop grifting, and she sticks around to try to persuade him to stop. She has her reasons for this and we get to see them in their own violent, callous glory. Lily is convinced that Roy is not hard enough for the grifter lifestyle and that he will eventually go 'long-con' and lose his life to a dangerous endeavour.
However, contrary to what many people may have believed grifters to be like when the term was coined in the 50s, Roy is not a happy man. Although he is confident and charming when he wants to be, and loaded with cash which he hoards for some inexplicable reason, he also seems lost and disconnected, has no real friends and there is a clear distance between him and his girlfriend Myra, which we learn as the film progresses.
Myra is a femme fatale figure with an innocent face but a cunning mind. She is also a beauty to watch, and in many ways she is Lily's nemesis as they are both strong female characters who will do almost anything to achieve their own ends. This involves pulling Roy in opposite directions. Roy seems to like Myra because she is so different to his mother, and yet there are also clear similarities between Lily and Myra, and it is clear that one of them will have the last word, though this remains a mystery until the very end of the film.
I absolutely loved the dialogue in this film. It is short and sharp, with little being said but much covert meaning behind the conversations that do take place. Everything is charged. All of the characters are charming and confident, yet they also clearly have unresolved issues and a strange disconnection from each other and society. They are used to getting what they want and they will go to all lengths to achieve it, which is both a scary and thrilling notion in this film, and this sort of insight is also addictive to watch.
Although I'm a Cusack fan I don't think this was his best performance, but this is partly due to his role in the film, as his character sways in the hands of two women who play their parts exceptionally well. He is not really the central character here, but someone who is caught in the web of two powerful femmes; Myra and Lily. These two women are the sort of figures you admire and fear, and they also stick in your mind. They are artists at what they do, whereas Roy is a flailing child, caught between his mother and his girlfriend and unsure of what to do with his life. He's a sorry soul and one I pitied much throughout the film.
If you like the film noir genre then this is the gritty, gripping film for you. Since there is violence and nudity in it, it's a good one to watch late in the evening when the kids are in bed.. Though perhaps not alone if you're easily upset. A few scenes in the film were depicted so well, that alongside the slow confident plot progression that characterises this film, I remember the words spoken clearly and in some ways they haunt me. I'm not easily frightened, but this film struck me with its strangeness and its darkness. It's a strange tale of human nature and of the side effects of being on the grift. I highly recommend it because it is superbly filmed and scripted, but be warned, it's also dark and it's unforgiving - for this is the way of life on the grift.
The Grifters was the film that put the Miramax studio on the map back in 1990. Dark and dirty, it's the story of three twisted individuals that put foxes and rats to shame in the sly and cunning stakes. All three of the film's players are professional con artists of one sort or another. To use the 1950s term, they're 'grifters'. Rather than going about their separate businesses ripping off the unwary and the gullible, our three charlatans find themselves pitted against each other. Why? Because as much as they make a living from the naive and honest, a grifter gets the ultimate thrill from shafting another charlatan. **Meet the players** *Roy Dillon* Roy (John Cusack) is what's known in the caper as a short-con. He runs quick little scams on the unsuspecting to earn his living. His repertoire includes flashing a $20 bill at a bar tender as he orders a beer, only to deftly substitute it for a tenner when the barman returns with the beer, gaining an extra $10 in change if he?s lucky. Roy's 25 years old, and has been on the grift since he was 17 and quasi-apprenticed to an old time grifter. Roy subscribes to his old mentor's philosophy of sticking to the short sharp tricks to fleece people. The financial rewards aren't as lucrative as those gained from more elaborate long-con operations, but you're also less likely to go to prison for your troubles. Like all con artists, Roy's charismatic when he wants to be. However, as a result of so many years on such an anti-social career path, he's also a little strange. He lives in a seedy looking old hotel room, and hordes money like a squirrel hordes nuts. Roy's a troubled soul. *Myra Langtry* Myra (Annette Bening) has a part-time job modeling for the word 'amoral' for Websters Dictionary. Myra's way of doing things includes cheerfully offering her greasy old landlord the choice of cash or
sexual favors as her rent payment. Older than she looks, Myra's an experienced seductress in the long-con game. Bristling with sexual energy, she also happens to be Roy's new girlfriend. An interesting side note, Roy and Myra aren't initially aware of what the other does for a living. Roy, for instance, passes himself off as a match salesman. *Lilly Dillon* Lilly is Roy's Mum. She's also a gofer for a mobster/bookmaker. Her scam is to go around placing bets at the race track on rank outsiders in order to bring their odds down, and therefore protect her bosses exposure should one get up in a race. She's a crafty old vixen, that's only 14 years older than her son. Such is their relationship, Roy calls her 'Lilly' rather than the conventional 'Mum'. Lilly easily matches Roy and Myra in the devious department, and gives the distinct impression that she'd take anyone down for a dollar, including her son. Thus the stage is set! **Wind 'em up and let 'em go! (the plot)** One of Roy's show-em-twenty-and-give-em-ten scams doesn't go according to plan. An astute bartender gives the would-be shyster a good hard smack in the stomach with a baseball bat. Such was the pounding, Roy ends up in hospital. During visiting hours, Lilly and Myra meet each other for the first time and the sparks immediately fly. In a man-bewildering display of a women's intuition, Myra and Lilly recognize exactly what sort of woman the other is. They're looking in the mirror and they don't like what they see. The story rolls nicely from there with some fascinating twists and turns as the battle of wits between the three gathers momentum. Will Roy and Myra team up for a long-con? Will Myra pull the wool over Roy's eyes? Will Lilly protect her son, or will true instinct kick in and see her take Roy down instead? What will Myra and Lilly
do to each other? You wont have a clue until the very end, and then it's an ending you're not expecting! **The appeal of The Grifters** Con artists aren't your usual criminals. They don't rely on thuggery or even your absence to get what they want. No, for the likes of Roy, Myra, and Lilly, the game is to pluck it right from under your nose without you even noticing. They get what they want because they're smarter than their opponents. Watching our three players is like watching a rattle snake with a delightful smile. You find them all charismatic, but you're ready to recoil because you sense that they're dangerous. In many ways the snake oil salesman is far more interesting to watch than the mugger. **The acting** I'm a solid fan of John Cusack's work. I've enjoyed everything from Better Off Dead to Grosse Point Blank. However, I must admit that his female co-stars have outgunned him in The Grifters. Cusack's Roy is a little two flat and not as charismatic as he should be. I can't help but think that Brad Pitt, with a Fight Club caliber performance, could produce a better Roy. The role needs a little more sparkle. Annette Bening is delightful in a darker, sluttier role. Getting her gear off and strutting around topless didn't hurt my interest, but she also brought the character of Myra to life scene after scene. Bening is the glue and the wildcard in The Grifters. She makes you watch and wonder what'll happen next. Additionally, I wont be singing 'the old gray mare, she aint what she use to be' about Angelica Huston's performance. Like Bening, she's quite sensational as the sexy reptile. Her ability to constantly maintain the shifting mirage involved in being Roy's Mum, a seductress, and a ruthless con artist is quite superb. Full marks for Angie! **A quick word about the filmmaker** The Grifters is ba
sed on the 1950s Jim Thompson novel of the same name. With full credit to director Stephen Frears, the film (set in the 90s) retains a certain old fashioned feel to it. In many ways the story needs it to be plausible, but it also gives the film a unique aura. Grifting is probably the second oldest profession in the world, so it's befitting that its agelessness is hinted at in the film. **And the winner is?** The Grifters was nominated for four Oscars, and it's easy to see why. It's smooth, intoxicating, and, most of all, addictive. You'll find yourself fascinated by the three players and their outrageous behavior. Although it's not rated R, I wouldn't describe The Grifters as fun for all the family. Along with Annette Bening parading her delicious body for the viewers, this film contains some very adult concepts, that are often heard rather than seen. All up, I'm giving The Grifters four stars. Cheers for reading, and I hope you enjoy the movie! ~Joe
A defiantly hard film to like, dealing as it does with a series of deeply compromised con-artists making a living in sleazy Los Angeles. Stephen Frears' follow-up to the emotional and sexual intrigues of pre-revolutionary France (Dangerous Liaisons) is an exceptionally dark and absorbing picture of crime and obsession. Anjelica Huston is just towering as Lily, an older generation criminal perversely attracted to her weak, con-man son Roy (John Cusack) who is being steered towards a life in the big leagues of crime by another femme fatale, Myra (Annette Bening). The stuff about con-artistry comes in the details - this is no big crime film, but a story of obsession and survival, with the three characters ricocheting off each other until their various unhealthy motives bring them to grief. It's a sober, stylish and intense thriller, with superb performances (Pat Hingle and JT Walsh are outstanding as Lily's boss and Myra's former partner respectively). Like most adaptations of the novels of Jim Thompson (After Dark My Sweet, The Kill-Off) it's exceptionally bleak and pessimistic about human nature, but well worth watching if you are in the mood for something edgy.
Annette Bening twists like a mink on a leash through Stephen Frears' The Grifters, an adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel. This may be the perfect trope for the moral hysteria that coils around a mother, her son and his girlfriend in this slender but highly pleasurable neo-noir. Small in effect and local in scope, the film is about small-fry, attractive, bloodless con-artists who view the world as neatly split between ropers and suckers, grifters and squares. "Grifter's got an irresistible urge to beat a guy that's wise", an old-timer tells Roy (John Cusack). And yet the three characters here--played by Angelica Huston, John Cusack and Bening--only beat the innocent: Lilly (Huston) gigs at the track for a mobster named Bobo, putting wads of cash on long-shot horses to even out the odds. Roy, her son, swindles citizens by dimes and degrees, flashing twenties at bars then paying for his beer with tens. His girlfriend, Myra (Bening), is hustling herself, her salad days as a long-con roper behind her. Theirs is a world of gut punches and smart lines, and the adrenaline these cheats and chisellers live by is palpable onscreen. But a larger canvas? Maybe it's there as a parallel universe. "What do you sell again?" Myra asks Roy, the matchbook salesman. "Self-confidence", he says, a wry allusion to the confidence game all three of them are playing. The movie boasts dazzling turns by Bening, Cusack and, especially, Huston, whose m&eagrave;re-fatale breaks new ground for noir. --Lyall Bush, Amazon.com