Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Grifters

Sometimes it is fun to revisit a film that you don't bust out too often to see how well it holds up. The Grifters is a drama from 1990 featuring the talents of director Stephen Frears (Hi-Fidelity, Dangerous Liasons) and producer Martin Scorsese. Essentially it is a story about three grifters (con men) and their relationship to each other. Each one looks at the other as a potential mark despite their closeness. Lilly (Anjelica Houston) runs odds down at racetracks for the mob and is sent to LA for some quick work. She drops in to visit her son Roy(John Cusack) who is hurting from a con he tried to pull in a bar. These two all ready have a contentious relationship when Roy's girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) enters the picture.

Revisiting this film now, I can clearly see that is set up as a creepy love triangle. Cue the scene where Myra confronts Roy about his work. A wisecrack early about Roy selling matchbooks provides a clue that she knew along what he did, but only later on after she witnesses it does she bring it up. At this point, Myra tell Roy that she is of the same ilk. Roy becomes immediately more intrigued by Myra since there is already that sexual tension between him and his mother.

Cusack is a master at the scenes with Lilly providing the viewer with way too much info with his eyes. They dart back and forth from breast to leg in a manner unbefitting of a mother-son relationship.

Strange that the film would come full circle from a line earlier on in the film. A woman always has one thing...

The Grifters was adapted from a novel by the great Jim Thomson that is less about the script as it is about the perfomances and direction. Cusack has the least showy part, but perhaps the most difficult overall. Houston has always been a fine actress, but most people didn't even know who the hell Bening was before this film. This is an excellent showpiece for one of the best actresses of all time. The daring and ballsy-ness is amazing.

Frears is always the consumate professional who might someday get the word auteur attached before his name. Each of his films has his fingerprints all over it. His work with the camera has a definite feel of the producer Scorsese. Each scene is done with such precision you can't help but feel excited just seeing what he is going to do next. Movies like this are an absolute pleasure to rewatch no matter what the subject matter.


Cameo alert for the great Pat Hingle as Lilly's mob boss. He was the original Commissioner Gordon in the Tim Burton Batman!

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