Get a grift

Movie: Confidence

Our Rating: 3.00

Director James Foley's con caper is one of those new-market plot-twisters that aspire to The Sting-hood but keep tripping over their own trickiness. Master planner Jake Vig (Edward Burns) inadvertently diverts money from sleazy crime boss Winston King (Dustin Hoffman), and has to spend the rest of the movie leading his felonious crew through an elaborate finance scam as a make-good.

The story is told in the form of an extended flashback, as Jake recounts the entire criminal cycle to a hit man who's about to put a bullet in his brain. (If you ever meet a murderer who's willing to wait for you to relate the plot of an entire motion picture before he offs you, you've found yourself a serious stooge.) His yarn is an energetic but far-fetched one, full of alleged expert fakers who inexplicably refer to themselves by their real names while on the job, and who fail miserably to keep their sticky fingers off each other: Vig's sexual interest is Lily (Rachel Weisz), a haughty pickpocket who functions as a sort of update of Cameron Diaz's "character" in "Gangs of New York."

The movie's aim is to keep us wondering if any of this activity is legit, or merely another con. Does it matter, anyway? What pictures like "Confidence" forget is that their narrative convolutions have to look credible on first pass -- not just vault forward implausibly until they're all deconstructed in a show-closing flurry of reversals that come too fast for us to realize that they may not hold water, either.

In place of honestly clever storytelling, we get a fascinating supporting turn from Hoffman, who once again proves his ability to sell even the most pedestrian material. His Winston King is an unctuous, possibly pansexual degenerate with a pragmatic view of his own sartorial shabbiness: "Style can get you killed."

Somebody needs to tell that to Foley, who refuses to frame or shoot the simplest image in a manner that doesn't cry out for attention. (When the movie was screened on the opening night of the recent Florida Film Festival, the combination of its relentlessly motive visual style and some free wine served in big-ass glasses had more than a few viewers feeling palpably woozy.) Particularly annoying is Foley's repeated trick of placing his actors in the midst of an outdoor locale, then setting his camera far enough back that cars and buses whizz by to intermittently obscure the action. That's "realism," right?

I don't know about you, but I go to the movies because it's one avenue of my life in which I'm reasonably sure a bus won't be blocking my vision.


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