***1/2 (out of 5)
April 25, 2003
Edward Burns as JAKE VIG
Dustin Hoffman as KING
Rachel Weisz as LILY
Andy Garcia as GUNTHER BUTAN
Paul Giamatti as GORDO
Robert Forrester as MORGAN PRICE
Morris Chestnut as TRAVIS
Directed by: James Foley
BY KEVIN CARR
Having seen many of the classic con movies, including “The Sting,” “The Grifters,” and “Snatch,” I was a little suspicious of “Confidence.” After all, it’s been done before, hasn’t it? The answer is yes, but that’s still okay. Even if it has been done before, it can be done again as long as it’s done well.
And “Confidence” does it pretty well.
Jake Vig (Edward Burns) and his buddies are con artists who have a system that works. They set up shop in a big city, start running con games, then move on when the victims – and the cops not on their payroll – start to catch on. Their latest stop is Los Angeles, and their latest con is a patsy whom they cheated out of several hundred thousand dollars.
After taking their loot home, one of their partners is shot to death while eating take-out Chinese in front of the television. After Gordo (Paul Giamatti) does a little digging, he discovers that the hit was courtesy of King (Dustin Hoffman), an L.A. crime boss who has a reputation for not letting any double-crosser get away. Apparently, their latest con victim was supposed to make a drop with the money that Jake’s gang stole.
Instead of turning his tail and running, Jake tries to reason with King. After a mea culpa to the crime boss in his hideout (the familiar cliche of a strip bar), King agrees to forgive Jake and his gang if they pull off a huge con for him. The target is mob lawyer Morgan Price (Robert Forrester), and the loot is five million dollars. Reluctantly, Jake takes the deal.
Because there is now a position to fill in his crime ring, Jake brings in a wily grifter named Lily (Rachel Weisz). Until now, Lily has been fleecing old rich men Anna Nicole-style before running off with their wallets. She takes the job because the cut of her potential profits are too hard to resist.
The movie is told in a series of flashbacks after Jake has been captured by Price’s heavy (Morris Chestnut). It actually opens with the death of Edward Burns, which means the movie can’t be all bad.
Despite Edward Burns’ presence in this film, I actually liked “Confidence.” Maybe it’s because after almost 10 years doing films, Burns is becoming a better actor… I doubt it, though. More likely, it was his character. Normally, Burns plays sleazy, womanizing heroes – usually in his own films that he has directed. In “Confidence,” he plays a sleazy, womanizing anti-hero. Instead of making a creep the hero, the filmmakers have made a film about con artists (all of them creepy) and left you to root for the lesser of all evils.
Sadly, Hoffman as King is filling out his career similar to Al Pacino’s these days. He plays a stock character if he’s not challenged to stretch beyond the words in the script.
Sure, great actors can play stock characters in practically every movie they appear in. Jack Nicholson, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro are great examples of this. However, these guys are likeable in their stock roles. There’s something warm and inviting about the standard DeNiro or Nicholson performance. Hoffman, like Pacino, isn’t likeable at all as his stock character. Rather, he’s annoying, boring, and a bit slimy.
That’s not to say that Hoffman is incapable of acting. In fact, he’s one of the greatest actors alive today. This is evidence in films like “Tootsie,” “Rainman” and even stinkers like “Hook.” While “Hook” reeked as a film on the whole, Hoffman’s portrayal of Captain Hook was nothing short of incredible. Too bad his other directors over the past ten years haven’t forced him to stretch like Speilberg did. Without that, you’re left with lukewarm performances like “Outbreak,” “Sphere,” “Wag the Dog,” “Hero”… and the list goes on, with “Confidence” as a new addition.
James Foley does a commendable job piecing together the intricate story, although at times it is as if he’s trying to imitate Guy Ritchie’s style without the flair. Still, there are enough twists and turns in the plot, with an underlying “Trust No One” theme to keep the audience guessing. Maybe not all the way to the end, but pretty darn close.