Urban Cinefile
"I told them not to be shy about making fun of me because, of course, they must have been on a very precarious perch"  -John Malkovich on the making of Being John Malkovich
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 18, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small-time con-man, running nickel and dime operations in Los Angeles, who one day finds himself on the business end of a beating when he tries to con the wrong man. A surprise visit from his estranged mother Lily (Angelica Huston), a strong, yet feminine woman who works a scheme fixing odds at racetracks for the Mob, sees Roy hospitalized from his wounds, and when his mother and con woman girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) meet, the tension begins to rise. With Myra anxious for Roy to join her in a long con job she has perfected, Lily keen to find out what Roy is up to and Roy just itching to get back to work, the three begin a dangerous game of manipulation and deceit, each carefully watching the other, ready for a con.

Review by Craig Miller
Similar to more recent "con" films like Catch Me If You Can and Matchstick Men, where directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott attempted to breathe life into the genre by giving us more character-strong con-men, Stephen Frears' 1990 drama The Grifters is not so much about "pulling a job" or getting away with something, but more a focus on the relationships between characters and how the job itself affects them and their lives.

Based on a 1950s novel by Jim Thompson, The Grifters, essentially, is a character piece, and quite a complex one at that.

The relationships between Roy, Lily and Myra are on the surface, much like many of those in our own everyday lives, but dig a little deeper and issues of control, abandonment and the dangers of dominant personalities over the weak litter this dark drama. Both Lily and Myra have their own strong hold over Cusack's Roy, and the conflict and jealousy that is realised between them is matched only by Roy's resolve to get away from their domineering ways.

The basic idea of this un-trusting "grifting" profession in which the three leads find themselves drives the action along nicely, manipulating their actions and taking what should be the strongest relationships in their lives and turning them against each other.

Excellent use of two very good flashback scenes, detailing Roy's and Myra's start down their own respective tracks, adds some great back story to their lives and gives the viewer some insights into success in the job, how that can affect you personally and the emotional baggage that just somehow keeps accumulating. It's wonderful stuff.

Huston and Bening are both sensational in their respective roles as Roy's overly fond mother and as his slutty con artist girlfriend - both picking up Academy Award nominations for their work, and deservedly so - and Cusack in this major transition piece in his career (from sweet comedy roles to some hard hitting drama), shows plenty.

Meticulously crafted and with a perfect blend of drama and black comedy, this carefully told tale of three intertwining lives unraveling under the guise of self interest may stray a little towards the end, thanks to some cheap Hollywoodisation, but small indiscretions are easily ignored when, for the most part, The Grifters is one perfect con.

Published: August 5, 2004

Email this article

(US, 1990)

CAST: Angelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening, J.T.Walsh, Charles Napier, Jeremy Piven, Pat Hingle

DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears

SCRIPT: Donald E. Westlake

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolb Digital 5.1



DVD RELEASE: July 28, 2004

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018