Tuesday, July 10, 2012

THE GRIFTERS (1990) - Stephen Frears

Bobo Justus: "Did I ever tell you the one about the oranges, Lilly?" And how, Bobo. How when you wrap oranges into a hotel towel you can use it bruise a person for insurance scams without busting up their insides too bad. If that doesn't work, there's always the lit cigar crushed into the back of their hand. Or perhaps the drinking glass smashed into their neck.

I've seen The Grifters at least five times. In terms of neo-noir, it is the grift that keeps on giving. So many wonderful con artist details, so generous in enumerating the tricks of the trade. From John Cusack's barroom twenty-into-ten sleight of hand to Angelica Huston's odds-lowering routine at the track to Annette Bening's sleeping her way into a higher diamond appraisal then doing the same to lower her rent, these three scammers are laid bare as completely amoral opportunists. Huston's bad mother-figure Lilly is the absolute worst of them all. This may be my favorite con movie. It's definitely the best of the Jim Thompson adaptations I've seen. Frears owns his dark material/dark characters from the very first frames, earns his opening three-way split screen.

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