‘The Grifters’ Revisited

Forgotten DVDs


06 February 2013| No Comments on ‘The Grifters’ Revisited     by Sean Chavel


“You’re working some angle and don’t tell me you’re not, because I wrote the book.” – Lilly Dillon

The seedy world of the con artist game film noir style. The Grifters (1990) informs us that there are two different kinds: the short con and the long con. Roy Dillon (John Cusack, marvelously subtle) is a maestro of the short con. Dice games. Pool games. Typically, he walks into a bar to ask for a beer, flashes a $20, slides it under his wrist, slides the bartender a $10 bill. At a crucial point in time he gets caught by the wrong bartender, and is forced to the hospital. It is there that his mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) and girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) will meet and mark the beginning of a new tricky trajectory. Roy’s mother has always been a racketeer at the horse track, his girlfriend a maestro of the long con – one that requires set-up money, weeks to orchestrate, big pay-offs that are riskier law-breakers.

Something is clearly wrong when Lilly and Myra meet when they visit Roy in the hospital. These two women hate each other, but the more we observe them, the more we think of how similar they are to each other. At one point at an Arizona motel under shrouded light, they are a mirror image of each other. The director is Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Hero”) who must have been very aware that he was making a film about not only two women competing for Roy but also competing for his money.

The Oedipal complex theory is a nasty but ingenious theme in the story, one written by novelist Jim Thompson (“After Dark My Sweet,” “The Killer Inside Me”) and adapted by Donald Westlake (“The Hot Rock,” “The Stepfather”). Roy might have an inkling that something’s up with his tart girlfriend, but he’s less than cautious. He doesn’t know that she sells her body for money, anywhere or anytime! Myra does let him know that she was involved in high-stakes cons stooping stock market investors. Why tell him now? Myra propositions Roy to join her for the long-con, all she needs is money to set-up shop.

Certainly one can’t help but notice Bening’s body, and here is an actress that is also weirder, kinkier, and just more fiercely cunning than she’s ever been. Sex is nice, but love an improbability when it comes to her. She turns Myra into one of the most unforgettable femme fatales. Huston is an infallibly gritty actress when it comes to Lilly, whose condescending speech to others comes off like pelting stones. Pat Hingle, as her mob boss bookie, is the only one who strikes terror into her. Warning to the faint at heart: Hingle’s character commits violence against women.

Lilly with instinct knows that Myra is capable of tripping up anybody, including her son. Lilly, let’s face it, was one of those young women like Myra – a one-time tart, now cougar. Lilly knows: Cash is absolute to the grifter who has no loyal ties, and by the end love is dispensable. To a grifter, love is just playing an angle.

114 Minutes. Rated R.

Film Cousins: “House of Games” (1987); “After Dark My Sweet” (1990); “Confidence” (2003); “Matchstick Men” (2003).


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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