"You're good, grifterman. It's hard to tell when you're lying."
Did anyone see this movie in the theater? I mean that question both ways: did anyone ever see this movie listed on their local theater marquee and/or did anyone ever go and see this film in a movie theater? It made a little over $12 million, yet I have absolutely no recollection of seeing this one advertised last spring. With such star wattage as Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia, Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue, and Robert Forster, I'm fairly confident my memory isn't quite that bad that I can't recall a movie like that. Still, I don't remember it. Oddly, when I was in Best Buy the week it was released, Confidence was getting some pretty solid treatment from the store (from its display to its excellent sale price). Again, my confusion grew, as this film must have been around for Best Buy to give it such attention.
Now I have a copy in my hands, thanks to our friends at Lions Gate. My confusion takes another jump after watching the film. This is a good movie, so why does it seem it never received any advertising? Why did this movie fade away without getting what I perceive as a fair shake? Oh, I know why. It was released the same week as one of my favorite movies, Identity, and a week before X2. I guess I just ignored everything else. My bad! I'll presume then that this did get some advertising and was shown in a couple of screens across the country…
Facts of the Case
Jake Vig (Edward Burns, Sidewalks of New York, 15 Minutes, Saving Private Ryan) is a master of the confidence game. His exceptional skills at grifting combined with his good looks have allowed him to believe that he can con anybody. Jake and three of his friends travel around the country pulling scams and stealing money. Now they are in Los Angeles, and their latest victim has taken the bait and given them another successful job. But Jake is completely unaware that this man is an associate of a very powerful man in L.A., The King (Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog, Rain Man, Tootsie).
When The King learns that one of his men has lost his money, he is not happy. With a few choice questions, The King learns the name of one of Jake's associates and promptly has him killed. Quickly realizing he and his friends are in way over their heads, Jake goes to The King to resolve the situation. The King is a reasonable man and all he asks of Jake is for him to return the money. Brazenly, Jake refuses. What he does is make a counterproposal by which Jake will pull a job for The King. He'll work off his debt for The King while simultaneously making money for him and his crew. Being quite impressed by Jake's fearlessness, The King agrees to his proposal with one caveat: The King will choose the target. Not having any recourse, Jake agrees, knowing it's going to be a hard target. The King picks his biggest rival, Morgan Price (Robert Forster, Jackie Brown).
Jake assembles his team with a new addition, Lily (Rachel Weisz, About a Boy, Enemy at the Gates, The Mummy), a like-minded con artist whom he finds working on some rich, elderly men. The plan is outlined: Jake and his gang will do the job for The King, but they will do it far bigger than The King realizes. They currently owe The King about $150,000, but Jake intends to take Price for a cool $5 million.
To do that, Jake will have to come up with the ultimate confidence game. Much to his group's dismay, Jake's plan seems to be exceptionally weak, for it's been tried before and failed every time. However, Jake is confident that he can make it work this time. After all, he is the best grifter in town, but he could be in for a turn of bad luck when he discovers that his adversary, Agent Butan (Andy Garcia, Ocean's 11, Hero, The Godfather: Part III), has shown up in L.A.
Knowing that Butan is around, knowing that The King doesn't trust him, and knowing that his scheme is the most complex he's ever tried, Jake will have to create a miracle to pull off this scam.
It is not a spoiler to tell you that Jake is dead at the beginning of the movie. That's the first twist you'll come across with Confidence, a heist film that works incredibly hard to create the most intricately complicated confidence job ever put to screen. Jumping right in, skipping all pretense, and telling its tale entirely as a flashback as Jake lies dead in an alley, Confidence is a brisk tale that will cause you to shake your head in surprised disbelief before it's all done. As noted in my review of The Good Thief, heist films are in vogue now, and they all work to create a situation that seems unbeatable. But, of course, someone is always smarter, and he (invariably a man) has a plan to beat the odds, defeat the competition, blame someone else, and end up "sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent." I like these films, and I love all the numerous twists filmmakers are coming up with to make their films just a little bit different from the competition. Ocean's 11 is a classic example of clever twists upon twists that end up going over the top; The Good Thief is an example in which the unexpected happens, but it all stills feels plausible.
Confidence falls somewhere in the middle of those two, albeit a little bit more shaded towards the slightly impossible. The unfolding heist is far more complicated than you can imagine. An early scene between Jake, Lily, and the rest of the gang gives you an outline of what they're going to do. This scene is smartly crafted to help clue you in so you'll understand what's going on later when the plan is in action. However, when the game is afoot, more happens than what was laid out—a whole lot more! Some new obstacle comes out of nowhere; but never fear, Jake is prepared. Agent Butan is in pursuit; but never fear, Jake is prepared. One thing after another comes up during the con game to make you think Jake has been outsmarted; yet, every time, he is one step ahead. It put a huge smile on my face when it all wrapped up, because if Jake were real, he would certainly be one of the smartest and most prescient men on the planet.
In the end, if you like a good caper film, then you will like Confidence. It may occasionally go a bit far; it may not surprise you with every single twist; but the story, witty dialogue, and acting will rivet you. And clearly rising to the top of the acting chart is Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman has chosen many a great film in his day, and he's also picked some big clunkers as well. His role here, pivotal to the plot, is definitely a supporting role, but he steals every scene that he is in. His character is a blending of many different traits: he's smart, sly, manipulative, dangerous, and much more. The King is perfectly portrayed as someone you do not want to cross. On the whole, though not nearly as inspired as Hoffman's work, you'll find everyone else in the cast in top form.
The transfers on this disc are solid, but are a bit lacking for such a new film. For the video, the anamorphic transfer comes with all the standard features: accurate colors, deep blacks, excellent detail, and good contrast. What is also has, unfortunately, is what I would call "wavering." Not quite the same as the deadly shimmer, the waver is exactly what the name implies. It pops up just a few times, and it's obviously noticeable. A film as new as this should not have such a significant error. Your audio choices are either a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 track. Included in the standard package are clear dialogue, nice dynamic range, nice use of the surrounds, and solid bass. Sadly, tagging along for the ride is an echo for most of the dialogue. Again, it's noticeable and quite distracting, and should not be on this recent film.
If you're a commentary junkie, then this disc is for you. For some insane reason, Confidence has three—count 'em, three—audio commentaries for you to waste the better part of a day on. Waste? Is that really what I think? Yes it is, for the most part. The three tracks are helmed by (1) director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Chamber, Who's That Girl?), (2) writer Doug Jung, and (3) actors Ed Burns and Rachel Weisz. Of your three choices, the "actors' commentary" is the clear winner of the pack. It's the most informative and enjoyable, probably because the two actually interact, spurring new things to say. As such, the other two tracks, which often repeat each other, should have been combined—that is, Foley and Jung should have recorded a track together. There are certainly some good things said on the two separate tracks, but it was simply too much.
There are a few other items in the bonus materials to help balance out the commentary overload. The meatiest of the remaining lot is the "Anatomy of a Scene" feature, from the Sundance Channel. This 25-minute piece closely examines, almost scrutinizes, a key scene from the film—the scene I mentioned earlier where Jake outlines the plan to his gang. It's a nice piece but not exceptional; it's nothing you'll watch a second time. Next up are some deleted scenes (running a total of 12 minutes), which are presented a bit differently than your usual batch. The first scene has The King talking to some girls in his club. What makes this different is you see three complete takes of the shot where Hoffman is trying to nail the scene. The other scene is a mere extension of a scene still in the movie, and I really didn't notice a difference. Then there's a "soundtrack presentation" that is simply a big promo to "buy the movie soundtrack." Lastly are some trailers for Confidence, Godsend, The Hard Word, and Finder's Fee (the last coming from the mind of Jeff Probst!).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Where's the fun to be found in a movie where you know your leading man is going to die? Why start off the movie with the resolution and then work back? Wouldn't it have been a far bigger surprise to learn that your man actually screws up and ends up paying the ultimate price for his ego? Yes! That would have given the film the fresh twist it needed, instead of going for another preposterous and totally unbelievable con game. The studios keep making this genre of film, and people still go and see them, but they're getting old fast. No, they are old, and it's time to give it a rest.
Another member of the heist community, Confidence surprised me with how good it is. I had little faith in Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz (hot, but not the best actress around), and Andy Garcia (who only impressed me in Ocean's 11). Fortunately, I was very wrong with my expectations, and this film is very good. It's a clever interpretation of the well-worn con/heist film, with its own amazingly complicated series of events. As mentioned before, if you've enjoyed films like Ocean's 11, The Good Thief, and Heist, then this movie is right up your alley. A great story with a remarkable performance by Dustin Hoffman and some nice bonus features, Confidence is a definite rental and a safe buy.
Confidence is hereby found not guilty on all charges. Charges? What charges? These guys haven't done anything wrong.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director James Foley
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