The Grifters (1990) Directed by Stephen Frears
The memory is deceptive. Mine certainly is. I'm constantly re-watching films that at sometime I thought were really good but now disappoint. It's almost the same with the Grifters.
Based on Jim Thompson's novel, The Grifters is a modern Noir, a Grifter being a con man. John Cusack plays a conman who is torn between his rarely seen mother (working for the mob placing bets on horse races) and his latest girlfriend (a former big time con artist, who pays bills with sexual favors and is looking for a new con man partner).
Frears shoots this film with a slow pace, only the last act does the picture start to grip. It also looks very early 90's, which is to say it looks like a made for TV movie . Cusack is a little too frat boy and stiff to convince as the con man Roy Dillon. But what makes The Grifters almost classic are the two women who lead this film.
The Grifters was a calling card for both Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening. Bening is very sexy, naked (I have her breasts implanted in my memory you see them so often in this picture) and playful as the crooked girlfriend Myra Langtry. She spews some great lines like "he was so crooked he ate his soup with a corkscrew" and her performance adds the energy the film lacks because of Frears direction. A career defining turn.
But Huston is the one to watch. Lurid outfits, bleached blonde hair, her personality and quirky character engulf this film. The heavy suggestion of insest between Roy Dillon and his mother Lilly only convinces because of Huston's seedy sexuality. So long in the shadow of father John and Boyfriend Jack (Nicholson) this is where Anjelica shows us what we've been missing.Don't fuck with Anjelica, she'll rip your balls off. Her acting in the tragic final act is humane and believable. In that scene we get the heart of this film.
Ultimately, one can only wonder what the film's producer, Martin Scorsese would have made with such strong material. And why has Anjelica Huston not had more roles like this. Ice Baby Ice.
The idea of Grifters is better than the movie itself. Somehow it did not manage to involve me emotionally, so I didn't really care for the mother who ends up killing her own son even.
John Cusack is completely wrong for this film. He is supposed to be the son of a mafia bet maker who had him at 14. So, he should be on the edge and wired. He's supposed to be involved in 'big con', a good bluffer, but who would believe that Cusack is even acting. (Looks like he's asleep here.)
On to Annette Bening: Dressed in figure hugging 80's outfits (usually in mustard) Bening plays a sexy trickster who's willing to go to any length for wads of dollars. (This is Annette before she married Warren Beatty.) I can see that this was a fun role to play and that as an actress she was willing to do anything for the best of the movie (run around naked).
There is a kind of ragged charm to this film and the women steal the show from the get go. Also, the early 90's film noir-look is reaching coolness.