Lily works for a bookie, placing bets to change the odds at the track. When her son is hospitalized after an unsuccessful con job and resultant beating, she finds that even an absentee parent has feelings for her child. This causes her own job to go wrong as well. Each of them faces the down side of the grift.Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
Most films have one, and only one, protagonist around whom the story is told. But "The Grifters" has three, all of them petty swindlers, desperate for quick cash or good odds at a "long con". And it's the personal relationships among these three criminals, complex, sometimes dark, and almost always motivated by survival, that make this film a pretty good bet.
Roy Dillon (John Cusack), is a trickster, a loner, "on the grift" for the "short con", strictly a nickels and dimes man. His mom is Lilly (Anjelica Huston); she's a middle-aged lady with white hair; she's seductive, cold-blooded, and tough as nails; she's been around the block a few times. Roy's love interest is Myra (Annette Bening), a shapely, fun loving babe who uses her charms to con rich businessmen. These three people are highly manipulative and scheming, on-guard, and mistrustful of each other and the rest of the world.
The film's tone is bleak and gloomy. There's very little "heart" in this film. And that's a problem, because I found these characters not very sympathetic. They lead lives of quiet desperation, grimy and tawdry. Still, "The Grifters" is a crime story in the best tradition of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, a pulpy melodrama about the underbelly of urban America.
The film's structure is conventional, and contains a number of flashbacks. The set-up is tediously long. The second half of the film is better than the first half, in my opinion, because the second half contains more suspense.
Dialogue is direct and tough, like when Lilly makes her point to the ambulance driver who takes Roy to the hospital and is skeptical about Roy's chances for survival: Says Lilly: "My son is gonna be alright, if not, I'll have you killed". Later, she explains the facts of life to her son: "Grifts like anything else Roy, you don't stand still, you either go up or down, usually down, sooner or later". Yes indeed, it's a tough life being a "grifter"; but Lilly is one tough broad.
The film's color cinematography is fine. And the film has a terrific title sequence and a great Elmer Bernstein score at the beginning. Editing, costumes, and production design are all credible.
If you're in the mood for a gritty, bleak story of petty criminals in a well made modern film, "The Grifters" is a good choice. As a bonus, the DVD has an exceptionally good Commentary, with insightful comments from Director Stephen Frears, and actors John Cusack and Anjelica Huston.
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