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When con-artist Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is reunited with his estranged con-artist mother Lily (Anjelica Huston), he finds himself caught in the middle of the savage feud which develops between her and his girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening), also a con-artist. Myra is trying to draw Roy into a game where the stakes are much higher than anything he has tried before. This results in a vicious beating. Lily takes exception to this, attempting to persuade Roy to change his ways. But Myra won't be outdone and vows to exact a terrible revenge.
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 --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Though it's certainly a movie worth seeing, the disc is a real dud. The video transfer is mediocre at best, no better than an upscaled DVD, and there are no extras at all (and this really is a film that will have film buffs eager to see behind the scenes of). Hold off for a re-release in years to come.
"The best reason I can think of is that you scare the hell out of me. I have seen women like you before, baby. You're double-tough and you are sharp as a razor, and you get what you want or else; but you don't make it work forever. Sooner or later the lightning hits, and I'm not gonna be around when it hits you"
1990 was a grand year for neo-noir, of the dozen + titles that came out that year, The Grifters sits atop of the pile. A superlative film noir that boasts class on the page and on both sides of the camera. Set in modern day Los Angeles, the story follows three cynical and sly con artists through a psychological fog of bluff, double bluff, pain, misery, manipulations and shattering developments. That the trio consists of a boyfriend, girlfriend and an estranged mother only darkens the seamy waters still further.
Los Angeles positively bristles with a smouldering atmosphere thanks to the work of Frears, Bernstein and Stapleton. Sexual tension is ripe, Westlake's adaptation doing justice to Thompson's novel, while the three leads - and Pat Hingle in super support - are on fire, bringing complex characters vividly to life as they trawl through the devilishly labyrinthine plot, adding biting humour and shallow savagery into the bargain.
A top draw neo-noir that doesn't cut corners or pull its punches, from the split screen opening salvo to the pitch black finale, The Grifters delivers high quality for neo-noir fans. 9/10
As for the film, it's a sunny noir with a remarkably dark feel. A great film, and on blu-ray at a terrific price!
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