The Grifters Movie Review
From The Killing to The Sting to House of Games, American cinema is littered with awesome movies about the con. The Grifters is one of the genre's darkest entries, a somber and almost unbearbly tragic tale of a bookie's errand girl, Lily (Anjelica Huston), her estranged, small-time crook of a son, Roy (John Cusack), and his psychotic slut of a con artist girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening).
When Roy gets beaten up after a blown con, Lily comes back into his life, checking him into the hospital, and screwing up her day job by missing an important bet at the track. Lily disapproves of son's girlfriend (for good reason), and while Myra tries to rope Roy into joining her on a con of much larger proportions, she sets the wheels in motion to get Lily busted for skimming off her boss's operation.
The relationships are complex and the characters are richly crafted to the point of obsession on the part of the actors. Bening's Myra is a twisted version of her American Beauty character, as if she took a wrong turn somewhere in life. Cusack imbues Roy with an understated nuance he rarely employs these days. And Huston burns up the screen with her desperate, conflicted star turn.
With perfectly-cast small roles from character actors like Stephen Tobolowsky, J. T. Walsh, and Pat Hingle, The Grifters hinges on some truly awesome acting. The story, unfortunately, has one too many unbelievable elements to earn a spot as a classic. The ending is weak, a letdown from the highlight of the film (a flashback to Myra's days running a heavy, Sting-like con in Texas) and pale next to the movie's ultra-cool splitscreen opening.
Nonetheless, The Grifters' positives far outweigh its problems. Director Stephen Frears has since gone on to make some truly forgettable movies (Mary Reilly, Hero), but The Grifters stand out as a gem in his oeuvre. In addition to a commentary with much of the cast and crew, the DVD includes a making-of documentary and a short doc on author Jim Thompson, who wrote the original book on which the movie is based, and in which he is described as "the most nihilistic" author of his era. Very interesting.