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copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
cast: Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti
director: James Foley
97 minutes (15) 2003 Momentum VHS rental
Also available to rent or buy on DVD
[released 1 March]
reviewed by Rob Marshall
Jake has been shot - and left for dead - by somebody he tried to con. He actually tells
us he's dead. "OK, so I was dead," he says in dourly matter-of-fact voiceover.
But, as we gaze in confusion upon his 'corpse' in an alley, we realise a flashback is
coming. The flashback arrives, on cue, and we enter the complex world of quick-thinking,
imaginative professionals where smooth-talking antiheroes are able and eager to cheat
unsuspecting victims out of their money or possessions. However, sometimes, a briefcase
of cash acquired in a bogus 'drugs' deal belongs to another criminal subspecies altogether.
Jake's gang successfully relieve a very foolish and greedy 'mark' of his big bucks, unaware
that he's a mafia accountant working for Winston (Dustin Hoffman), so cool Jake pays this
much-feared kingpin a visit, suggesting a far bigger con ($5 million) to appease the mob,
and repay the stolen money - with interest. Unlikely as it seems, Winston agrees to fund
Jake's big plans for a big-time swindle against a rival crime boss, and the gang set about
their dodgy business yet again with a (nonsensical) idea to defraud an investment banker
(read that as international loan shark). However, almost everything that could go wrong
does go wrong. Or so it seems, anyway...
This slickly paced, knowingly plotted and marginally entertaining drama
of conmen in Los Angeles simply doesn't have the disarmingly likeable characters of caper
movies such as Soderbergh's
Eleven remake. Nor does it have the Hitchcockian psychological trickiness of Mamet's
House Of Games (1987), or the gritty realistic style of Frears' The Grifters
(1990). In fact, confidence is about all Confidence has. There's nothing here that
aficionados of crime cinema haven't already seen before in the countless imitators of 1970s'
classic The Sting. Edward Burns (from 15 Minutes) acts like a second-rate Ben
Affleck, and he brings all the enthusiasm of a shop window dummy to his central role of Jake.
As crooked FBI agent Butan, Andy Garcia seems lost in time from a different movie era entirely,
while Hoffman's sleazy gangster Winston is all dumb catchphrases and worrying mannerisms,
lacking credibility as either a sadistic bully (he wants to be like Joe Pesci in Scorsese's
1990 hit Goodfellas, but Hoffman hasn't got a mean streak in him to draw on for his
supposedly colourful role), or a crafty underworld leader and nightclub owner (he practically
instructs the new pair of trainee strippers to keep their clothes on!), so he's impossible to
take seriously here - except perhaps as unintentional comic relief.
As beautiful pickpocket Lily, Rachel Weisz evinces teasing sex appeal, but
does nothing with it. Luis Guzmán easily snaps up the acting honours as one half of
an undercover cop duo, while Robert Forster does his usual bang-up job in a cameo, playing
the big shot in a smart business suit. That said, the problem isn't with the cast at all.
Principally, it's the predictable storyline that's at fault here. Doug Jung wins this month's
screenwriting-by-numbers award with his script of clich�s and improbable but foreseeable twists
of the familiar three-act structure. Long before the unforgivably predictable ending comes
around, you won't really care if or how (here's a clue: it's more good luck than judgement)
cynical Jake's rascally gang of misfits get away with the loot.
The best bit: with Jake & Co loitering outside the bank to 'audition'
some of the staff as potential candidates for their scam, there's animated split-screen
patches in the style of satirical personal column or joke dating agency adverts to describe
the most 'unsuitable' characters.