Sharp suits, moody looks and lots of dirty crooks. Worth a squiz.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 25 Aug 2003 by Craig Eastman
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It must be a real pain in the ass being a "really respected supporting actor". Even more so a "really respected but not-quite leading man". The critics may well fight your corner, but when the General Public say "who he?" at the mention of your name you can hardly expect either the money or the adoration synonymous with the A-list. As such it's always nice when Hollywood misfits get together with a decent script and turn out a movie such as Confidence; a well-executed and highly enjoyable character-driven heist piece that sticks it's fingers up at the mainstream whilst simultaneously ripping off the likes of Ocean's Eleven and indulging in the old "hipper than thou" Pulp Fiction bucket-o-dialogue.

Essentially a straight forward scam picture, Confidence feels a lot more substantial than it is purely because director James Foley himself tricks you into thinking the events are far more complex than they actually are. The movie begins with 'grifter' Jake Vig (Edward Burns) and his crew pulling a fast one on a bag man who unfortunately turns out to be working for The King (Dustin Hoffman), a local crimelord and strip joint proprietor. Understandably incensed by this, King makes his feelings known by having his flunkies smoke one of Vig's crew. Before they all take two in the back of the head, Jake decides a better course of action would be to approach King with an offer; the money's already gone, but fund his next project and Jake will deliver $5 million rather than the few hundred thousand he owes. Call me cynical, but honour amongst thieves is surely a thing of the past, although King obviously feels differently for he decides to allow Jake the chance to come good on the condition that one of his own men plays chapperone. So the scene is set for Jake and the boys (plus girl) to pull off a blinder of a venture capital scam by fleecing a major bank.

Deciding he needs a serious piece of skirt if he's going to pull the wool over some fat horny banker, Jake employs the talents of Lily (Rachel Weisz), a streetwise pickpocket who he meets when she 'borrows' his wallet one evening outside a club. She's in the moment he mentions the word "million", whilst his regular cohorts Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and Miles (Brian Van Holt) are in it for the memory of their fallen comrade. Throw in King's man Lupus (Franky G) keeping an eye on proceedings, Vig-tracking cop Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) out for some payback, and pissed-off rival/bank owner Morgan Price (Robert Forster) and the con is most definitely on.

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That the plot and setup owes much to Soderbergh's star-studded circle-jerk is beyond question. Where this succeeds and that movie fails however is that there's mercifully little of the overblown pretentiousness and backslapping that marred the latter. Although you get the feeling Confidence and in particular it's star Burns are trying their damndest to be hip, rather charmingly they fail in a surprisingly good way. The dialogue may be sprinkled with "grifts", "cuts" and "marks", but it thankfully fails to muster the self-serving banality of so many other post-Pulp crime movies. Doug Jung, whose only previous credited work is in television, has delivered a script that mercifully dispenses with showboating in favour of getting on with the job at hand, and the movie is arguably better for it. Likewise the performances are far less painful than I first expected. Rather than a bunch of actors trying desperately to look cool as criminals, here it feels more like a bunch of criminals trying to look like some cool actors.

Burns is capable but proves yet again that he lacks the charisma to play major leading man anywhere other than inside his own head. Without doubt one of the single biggest advocates of the "look moody, smiles are for gay boys" school of acting, the poor man seems certain that cracking his face and grinning would herald the arrival of the Antichrist or something. His ability to not look cool whilst pointing menacingly and holding a beer bottle in the same hand is tempered by the relief that his role is not filled by George Clooney, and for this alone I commend his performance. English rose Weisz is unsurprisingly given little to do other than look gorgeous and raise a little question of trust now and again, though thankfully her American accent has improved substantially on previous attempts. Perhaps she could have a word with Jason Statham...

As per usual, Paul Giamatti gives grand value for money. If it wasn't for the fact he has a face that yells "funny man!" I'd wager he would be one of the biggest and best supporting players in the business (go rent Man on the Moon if you doubt me). Garcia's presence is hugely unnecessary, amounting to mere moments of screen time, and the most substantial thing I can think to say about his competent performance is that he turned up to give it. It is Hoffman, however, who proves that he is still undeniably the Daddy. Giving Burns a lesson in compelling performance, his nervy King, boiling with pent up rage beneath his calm exterior, steals each and every scene from under his young foil's nose, wavering from shades of Rain Man's Raymond Babbit to Goodfellas-era Pesci. As he quite rightly points out, "you do not want to scare me". A point well made sir.

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Overall, Confidence is an infinitely more enjoyable movie than many others of it's type. That it fails to garner four stars is not an insult as on any other day I might have caved in and awarded it four. My major gripe is that like the grifters it so lovingly portrays, this is a film that cons you senseless; in this case it's a scam to make you believe it's a lot deeper and more satisfying than it really is. Undeniably enjoyable at the time, too much post-viewing analysis has left me with the suspicion that here we have something of a fluke.

Rather than pull a blinder, director Foley has made the viewer look the other way with some distracting visuals (check out all the ultimately stupid colour filtering) whilst lifting five notes out of their pocket. Rather than condemn this tactic I must rightly praise it, since it certainly had me going for a while. The result is, unfortunately for him, that I'm going to be in no hurry to grab the DVD in three months unless it shows up at a bargain price. Showy this is, with it's titular confidence exploitation and more bluffs than a cliff convention, but ultimately satisfying it ain't. And what's with the hackneyed flashback narrative? Give me a break...

If convincing the world he didn't exist was the Devil's greatest trick, then Confidence is a cheeky little playground imp that tricks you into thinking you wanted to swap your foil Pok?mon cards for a Mars bar and an eraser. The more I think about it the angrier I'm going to get (about the film, not my Pok?mon cards you understand) so I shall stop here, suffice to say there are worse things you can spend your money on this week than a spot of Confidence. Just don't expect a generous cut. There is no cut...

From my headquarters on Isla Apathetica I award this cinematic outing 3 from a possible 5 stars. Now f**k off and leave me alone. I'm trying to perfect a bed that miniaturises people so that they can be glued to frogs for Ewan McGregor.

James Foley
Cast list:
Edward Burns (Jake Vig)
Rachel Weisz (Lily)
Dustin Hoffman (King)