A good con movie is like an optical illusion. The moment when the cube pops out instead of in and the moment when the con is revealed are accompanied by a laugh of amazement. We know our brains have been fooled by a careful designer, but our senses don’t quite believe it.
A King’s Ransom
R for Language, violence, sexuality, nudity
Jake (Edward Burns) leads a team of con artists (Paul Giamatti, Brian Van Holt) who are very good at what they do. An opening scene ends with their mark happily running away from his money.
It turns out the mark’s money wasn’t his to lose; it belonged to a “businessman” known as Winston King (Dustin Hoffman, stealing the show). King summons Jake to one of his legitimate establishments, a strip club. He acknowledges Jake’s deft work as a fellow crook, but he wants his twenty grand back all the same. Jake stands his ground and tells King that instead of returning the money, he’ll pull a new con, a big job that will bring in $5 million, and split it with King.
Jake proposes hitting Mr. Price (Robert Forster), a man King has long been jealous of. King agrees, on the condition that one of his men, Lupus (Frankie G), work with Jake and his crew.
For the new con, they’ll need a dame, a banker, and someone on the inside at Customs. They’ll also need to steer clear of two ambitious-but-crooked cops (Luis Guzman and Donal Logue) and one federal agent (Andy Garcia).
The film’s strongest selling point is the great cast. Burns, getting his first good review on Movie Habit, takes charge in the confident captain’s role. In an ensemble drama, all of the side characters are a little exaggerated, a little colorful, and everyone has the right this-is-fun attitude. Hoffman in particular is a pleasure to watch. His character gets a little greasy, but his performance is the perfect mix of menace, admiration, and impatience.
I had only two complaints about the acting. First, Giamatti seemed unnatural; I could never tell whether he was acting, or whether his character was acting. Second, Logue and Guzman are just a shade too comical about being the comic relief. After all, they play the cops and they need to be taken a little seriously.
The movie’s next-strongest point is its genre. It must be hard to make a bad con movie, because there seem to be very few of them. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it may be. The script has some flaws that need overlooking.
For instance, Burns narrates an exhaustingly long list of con-movie aphorisms at the beginning, droning on in that film-noir voice about money, greed, possessions, and luck. At first it sets the tone, but eventually it becomes an insult to the audience’s intelligence. There were also a few scenes where someone was too conveniently careless, too coincidentally gullible.
Tickle Your Brain
But Confidence is so fun and well paced that before long you’re caught in its web. Unless you’re predisposed to dislike con movies or Ed Burns, you’ll have too much fun to worry about minor nitpicks.
Confidence may not be the best movie in its class, but it’s good enough. Like a good optical illusion, it’s sure to tickle something in your brain.