Confidence Review

Sep 24, 2003 | 9:40am EDT

Confidence is Jake Vig's (Edward Burns) modus operandi. He exudes it in everything he does and it's why he is one of the best con men on the street a grifter who specializes in setting up the long con to reap the most rewards. His crew trusts him explicitly including inside man Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and shills Miles (Brian Van Holt) and Big Al (Louis Lombardi). Yet when the gang inadvertently ends up bilking thousands of dollars from a mark who is an accountant for a crime boss known as The King (Dustin Hoffman) life gets decidedly sticky. To make matters worse Jake is also being tracked by a cop Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) who is hell bent on catching his man. Therefore in order to shake off the eccentric--and dangerous--King while also eluding Butan Jake agrees to pull off the biggest con of his career. Along with newcomer Lily (Rachel Weisz) a beautiful pickpocket Jake decides to let in on the action the crew targets a banker with mob ties and comes up with a complex scheme involving corporate loans wire-transfers offshore accounts and custom issues. Of course things don't go exactly to plan and you are never quite sure who is swindling whom until the bitter end.

There certainly isn't a lack of confidence among the players in the film. Burns seems born to play Jake the grifter with the smooth double talk the good looks and the quick smarts. In fact it must not have been a stretch for him at all which in this case works to his advantage. Among Jake's colleagues Giamatti (Duets) stands out as Gordo whose had a long career of playing sweaty nervous guys who always seem to be on the verge of blowing the whole deal. The British Weisz (The Mummy) nails the tough Lily and keeps you guessing on whether she's the real McCoy or just another femme fatale while Garcia has a dandy time toying with us as Butan. Does he really want Jake to be caught or maybe just a piece of the pie? Hoffman however once again plays his character way too over the top. He has a few bright moments as the wacky King especially when he's first introduced looking like an aged version of a surfer dude. But he eventually comes off more clownish than menacing. He and Al Pacino should just go and duke it out for the title of best over-actor.

Movies about con artists have always been fascinating. Some of the best include David Mamet's slick House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner and Stephen Frears' gut-wrenching The Grifters which really shows the nasty underbelly of the business. You like them because you either end up rooting for criminals who have to rely on their wits and charm to do their so-called bad deeds or you want the guy being conned to get wind of it and turn the tables on the con men. In that way Confidence does its job well. Known for turning a fast-talking convoluted script into a compelling movie as he did with Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley keeps the action moving in Confidence. This time however Foley isn't working with a nearly flawless Mamet script. Mamet inherently understands this is a thinking man's genre where the fun comes from trying to figure out where the twist will come how the pieces of the puzzle will fall together. Screenwriter Doug Jung who is relatively new in the biz hasn't exactly mastered this Mamet technique. Confidence seems almost too twisty at times with too many double-crosses and too many second guesses. Yet when it all comes together you walk away feeling satisfied.

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