A suave con film, 'Confidence' lives up to its name

by Nate Ruegger | 5/1/03 5:00am

"Confidence" demands just what its title implies. Unless you trust this film, then you cannot partake of its many pleasures. Cool, sleek, sexy, hip, clever and well-endowed with a knockout cast -- "Confidence" delivers thrills only if you let it.

"Confidence" is a stylish and smart story about grifters and their capers. Jake Vig (Edward Burns) leads a rag-tag team of con men -- the inside man Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and the shills Miles (Brian van Holt) and Big Al -- with the aid of two corrupt LAPD officers, Whitworth (Donal Logue) and Manzano (Luis Guzman).

Backlit with the suave lies and skin-deep glamour of Los Angeles, Jake and his squad make big money easy. But when they overlook one little detail, their latest scam backfires and they're soon off to pull the greatest con of their lives.

On an ordinary day, Jake and his crew make thousands of dollars more than they hoped off of a seemingly ordinary man. But as dead bodies turn up, Jake learns his last mark was a foolish accountant for a local and highly eccentric crime boss known as Winston King (Dustin Hoffman). Jake keeps his cool and his pride, and strikes up a deal with The King: Jake and company get to keep their money and their lives, but only if they pull off an impossible con on The King's arch-nemesis.

The scam is on, but surefire success is not. Winston King demands that his bodyguard Lupus (Franky G.) join Jake's gang in order to make sure things go smoothly. To add the powers of seduction to his side, Jake brings in Lily (Rachel Weisz), who's just as mysterious as she is alluring and dangerous.

Meanwhile, special agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia ) -- who has been tracking Jake down for years -- blackmails Whitworth and Manzono and forces them to bring Jake to justice. Between the criminals, the cops and the impossible odds Jake must con or die.

"Confidence" spins a funny, fast, and incisive tale of suspense with a great cast. Dustin Hoffman easily catches interest as a fast-talking, gum-chewing man with ADHD. Hoffman's neurotic performance is convincing -- we never know if King is charming or insane or both.

However, the greatest cheers go out to Burns and Weisz. They play two despicable, greedy criminals, and yet their suave, cool and confident manners powerfully attract us. Their chemistry and glamour fascinates us and carries us throughout the whole film.

Though the entire cast gives stunning performances, they are all portraying characters more than fully emotional human beings. Director James Foley gives us portraits of complex, unsentimental people, stylishly painted on a colorful backdrop of suspense and lies. This film is about criminals who lie for a living: it is in their nature and occupation never to let anyone get to know them.

That means even the audience only receives a fleeting glance at the characters' souls. But this in no way ruins the film.

"Confidence" gives us the straight story of the ultimate con. Rather than dwelling on the depths of their plight and their delicate hearts, the film moves on at a cutthroat pace, rife with character and wit. Some may call this predictability or bad character development.

Instead, this is a film about clever, quirky criminals swept away by their highly complex though intensely intriguing lifestyle. There is no room for melodrama, glamorous romance or probing character study.

"Confidence" is a highly entertaining film, both stylishly directed and well-acted -- if you have the right mindset. Relish in the great character of these grifters and the thrilling, clever storytelling, and you will find yourself at the edge of your seat.