Movie Review: The Grifters (1990)

Posted: April 7, 2012 in Drama
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Lilly Dillon (Angelica Huston) is a con-artist who operates out of a racetrack.  She gives most of her proceeds to a mobster named Bobo Justus, (Pat Hingle) and Lilly better keep paying Bobo, because Bobo doesn’t have a problem with hitting a woman.  Bobo burns Lilly’s hand when she doesn’t run the con correctly. Her son Roy (John Cusack)is master of the short con, he says he’s a small time con-artist, but look behind the clown paintings in his dingy apartment and you’ll see he’s hidden a lot of money.  Roy’s girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening) is a con-artist called a roper, she ropes in unsuspecting rich men and gets them to invest their money with her. Myra needs a new partner, and she sees Roy as her Prince Charming.  Who will get their hands on Roy’s money first, his lovely girlfriend, or his mommy dearest?

I loved this movie, until about the last 15 minutes of the movie.  The characters are finely crafted, they can be as sweet as pie one minute but when that façade drops, look out, they can be as nasty as they need to be to get what they want.  These characters are also as cagey as hell, the viewer never knows what they are going to do next, which is what makes the last 15 minutes of this movie so disheartening.  Surely the writers could have come up with a better ending than they did, I felt betrayed that the writers would resort to such an ending when they built up these characters with wit, charm and grace for an hour and 45 minutes, and then bam, the ending, it was disappointing.

The acting in this movie is superb.  These actors put such verve and charm into their characters, that the viewers almost forget how despicable the characters are.  John Cusack still looks so young and he’s got that boyish charm going full tilt.  Don’t let his innocent smile fool you, this guy is a shark.  Anjellica Huston is masterful, at times she sounds like a sweet old Southern grandma, at times she makes the viewers blood run cold. She looks like she could either kiss you or kill you, and she’s capable of both.  Not to be outdone, Annette Bening exudes sexuality in this role.  She knows exactly what she’s got and exactly how to use it, and she’s using it to rope in Cusack, who resists mightily. Lilly hates Myra. Is Huston being protective of her son , or is there something else at work here?  The actors make the characters better.

The Grifters.  Con-fident performances can’t save a lousy ending.

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