The Grifters (1990) — A twisted crime tale

“You’re mind’s so filthy, it’s hard to even look at you.”

Clare’s rating: It sick. It’s twisted. It’s dark and it’s dangerous. I LOVE IT!

Clare’s review: A grifter is a person who makes his or her living running confidence schemes. Sometimes these schemes are as simple as conning somebody out of a couple bucks and others require elaborate, well planned, on-going, nearly theatrical choreography in order to be pulled off without a hitch. This movie is about the lengths grifters will go to for that next sucker score and what it’s like to live a life where no one, and I mean no one, can be trusted.

Dark subject matter to be sure, but if you can get past the fact that none of these characters are people you’d want to house sit for you, this movie is sophisticated, complicated and kept me utterly fascinated (suddenly I’m Jesse Jackson). The film unfolds slowly and precisely without giving too much away all at once. In a way, the movie itself is like a confidence game. It lures you in slowly building up your interest and then just when you think you’ve got the game figured, pulls the rug out from under you.

In order for someone to really enjoy this film, it’s best not to know too much about it going in. I’ll give you the basics and let you figure out the rest as you watch.

It’s got John Cusack in it (playing Roy Dillon) but he’s not the John Cusack you know and love. He’s probably the most likable of all the characters in the film, but with the company he’s keeping, that’s not too tough. Forced to play serious, complicated and dark, Cusack shines and gives us his most compelling dramatic performance to date (yes, I’m a non-repentant Cusack-aholic).

It doesn’t hurt that his costars hand in finely tuned, shockingly good (and Oscar nominated) performances themselves guided by the superior direction of Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons). Angelica Huston plays Lilly Dillon, Roy’s long estranged mother and Annette Bening plays Myra, Roy’s not as sweet and innocent as she looks girlfriend. Put these three highly messed up folks together and you’ve got yourself one hell of a ride.

One final note to illustrate how much I would recommend you see this movie (if you’re in the mood for a smart, dark, character driven drama): I own the movie poster for this one. It’s not a very good movie poster design wise and I’ve had it forever (since 1990 actually) so it’s kind of ripped and beaten up, but I can’t seem to throw it away because I love this movie so very very much.

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