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No one to trust in 'Confidence'

Friday, April 25, 2003

By ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

`Life, or something like it that we call movies, lately has been throwing at us the kind of twists that keep chiropractors in business.


RATING: R for language, violence and sexuality/nudity..

STARRING: Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia

DIRECTOR: James Foley


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Everything's a con. No one's to be trusted. Bush stole the election, Clinton killed Vince Foster, Princess Diana faked her death to escape the paparazzi (and now lives with Jim Morrison of the Doors), Geraldo shot JFK, Saddam works for Halliburton, MTV rots the brain, we are the Men in Black, and just who did end up getting Lansberry's mail?

No wonder, in this cynical age, we prefer movie grifters. At least they're stealing from someone else (unless the film stinks, in which case you're out eight bucks) and they let you in on what they're planning, except when they don't. Why should they play fair with you, and, besides, what's the fun in that?

"Confidence" takes it to the hilt. Director James Foley and his actors exude charm and style, the better to disguise the movie's familiarities and to make us think all that sound and fury might signify something.

Screenwriter Doug Jung tells his story in flashback -- no straight scoop here, nor the double dips of "Memento." Natty knave Jake Vig (Ed Burns) and his band of skillful swindlers persuade a mark to abandon a briefcase full of swag by faking a bar shooting and making it look like he's next.

But there's just one small problem. The money belongs to a crime boss known and feared by all as The King. Dustin Hoffman plays him as if Ratso Rizzo hit the lottery, moved to L.A. and found more lucrative ways to hustle -- in every sense of the word.

Vig proposes to pay him back by running a con for him, and the King knows just the ticket -- a crooked banker named Morgan Price (Robert Forster).

OK, I lied, but why should I be any different? There is more than one small problem. A fed named Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) shows up vowing to catch Vig with the goods and send him to the slammer. And then there's the woman (there's always the woman), played by Rachel Weisz, who throws Vig a few curves, not that he's complaining.

Movies like "Confidence" are like overtime in football -- whoever makes the last score wins, only eight teams are on the field and the players may switch sides without warning and the losers risk learning the true meaning of sudden death. The problem is you know someone's going to win on a trick play, and you start looking for it.

Director Foley, who knows something about scams -- he's worked with Madonna and filmed David Mamet's business-as-con-game drama "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- tries to divert our attention with misdirection plays and the old razzle-dazzle. His camera seldom sits still, pacing and circling the action like an underling trying to get a piece of the cut. He gives us quick cuts and bright colored lights and the Hollywood sun and the occasional scantily clad woman. The flashbacks help break up the story as well.

Often, it's too much -- these are his trick plays, but every so often you need someone to go up the gut for five yards.

"Confidence" benefits from the smooth performances of Burns and Weisz. Like the rest of the characters, they are little more than skin deep but a little skin goes a long way, if you know what I mean. Hoffman appears to be having great fun. Garcia buries his looks beneath a battered hat and a three-day's growth and is the better for it.

And it's hard to go too far wrong when the supporting cast features solid pros Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue, Luis Guzman, Brian Van Holt, Morris Chestnut as well as a nice turn by Franky G., a security guard turned actor. No matter -- he cons us into believing, the most essential skill for any thespian.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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