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Confidence

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 04/25/03 08:12:19

"Donít Get Taken. You Know This Con."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

James Foley must really miss working with David Mamet. It was only once during the film adaptation of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, but in the ten years since that filmís release the very mention of it causes the heart of film lovers to skip a beat. 30 years ago, I bet it didnít take as long for THE STING. Attaching the word ďinstantĒ to that classic isnít even necessary since that status evolved faster than a spoonful of Folgers. Itís also evolved into constant repeats, homage, johnny-come-latelys and whatever else you want to call the doublecrossing con artist genre of films. While weíve certainly become accustomed to enjoying most of them, with more than a few provided by Mr. Mamet, CONFIDENCE missteps in so many ways that you donít have to be a chess player to see ten moves ahead.

What better way to start out the film then with a flashback, a dead narrator and a quick con to establish the rules and the characters? Name one and itís probably better. Jake Vig (Edward Burns) joins the same company as Joe Gillis, Lester Burnham and James Belushi in Traces of Red by telling us heís dead and how it ended up that way. Flashback three weeks earlier, when Jake and his cohorts, Miles (Brian Van Holt) and Gordo (Paul Giamatti) are pulling a fast one on a mark so that heíll fly, fly away and leave all his money behind. This theatrical role playing as Jake likes to put it involves one of them playing dead so immediately we have reason not to take his word. Ten moves, remember?

This mark (played by everyoneís favorite twitching weasel, Leland Orser) is one of the Kingís employees. The King is not played by Robert Shaw, but by Dustin Hoffman as an asexual kingpin who suffers from attention-deficit disorder. After the mark and one of Jakeís associates turns up dead, his plan is to make good with the King by pulling an elaborate grift that will make everyone happy. The King agrees and adds bouncer Lupus (Frankie G.) to the team while Jake takes interest in a sexy pickpocket named Lily (Rachel Weisz).

Elaborate is not the best word to use in this case, nor is instant, since the con is pretty simplistic in imagination if not risk. But weíre never meant to feel that risk, since other than the constant reminder that Jake is recounting this story with a gun to his head, there is not an ounce of suspense attached to the actual job. Doug Jungís script is more of an outline with all the particular twists and turns we come to expect of this genre without ever having a hold of the actual wheel.

David Mamet doesnít pretend to believe that his audience isnít smart enough to see the twists coming, but he patents his con games with his signature hardball dialogue and characters who have more flair than the world in which they navigate deserve. The original ďartistsĒ of Confidence have neither sway nor swagger. One talks tough, another has a hygenic fear of public restrooms and another is blonde. Weisz looks the part but is given nothing to suggest the title of femme fatale. Only Hoffman delivers. Itís no question why heís called the king because he takes charge of every scene heís in and the film loses a lot in the transition when his character disappears for the latter half.

***SPOILER WARNING***

The creators of Confidence certainly donít have any in their own audience. The sideswipes of the script are hardly of the rug-pulling sort and others are there just for the benefit of us, but make no sense within the confines of the charactersí actions. The identity of one (and Iíll say two words Ė Dana Elcar) is given an elaborate backstory for the benefit of another whose role in the con will never cross paths. The resignation of one of the players is also suspect since Jakeís chess analogy leads us to believe that he was aware of one characterís loyalty already. So why start a bar brawl and hope that a third party will intervene at just the right time? The film must also set the record for the longest talking killer in film history since Jake is allowed to recite every aspect of the con before a trigger is pulled. Also, on a far more simpler scale, try to believe that a video camera can pick up perfect audio for blackmailing purposes from at least 25 feet away on two low-talking cops in their police car.

***SPOILER END***

Iíve never been on the Edward Burns hate train. His directorial efforts have hardly been the stuff of legend and his acting choices have skated by on a kind of natural charisma that never merited anymore attention than their screen time. That was until I noticed how criminally out-of-place he is in a role like this. His New York tough guy shtick doesnít fly and his interaction with Hoffman is outright embarrassing. Even though Hoffman is about three feet shorter than Burns, thereís no reason to believe that The King couldnít have flattened this guy with just a look. They had to get rid of Robert DeNiro halfway through 15 Minutes so Burns could have his. The big confrontation in Saving Private Ryan comes at the expense of a silent Tom Hanks. Watching Burns getting to strut his stuff and then seeing poor Robert Forster relegated to the backseat as the unsuspecting mark crosses into a whole new realm of frustrating. Between his single scene in Mulholland Drive and his scene-and-a-half in Confidence, Robert Forster should be sweeping up the editorsí floor just so he can make people remember he was actually IN these flicks.

Confidence is a poor example of the game even to those who have never seen ANY film where a bait-and-switch is pulled. THE STING, THE GRIFTERS, HOUSE OF GAMES, THE SPANISH PRISONER and the remake of OCEAN'S ELEVEN all had what it takes to make this material entertaining and, at times, incredibly fresh. Even David Mametís most recent entry, HEIST, utilized many of the same roadforks that CONFIDENCE weaves in and out of, but had the good sense to not make you aware of those forks until just before it was ready to turn. Since Glengarry, director James Foley has waded through TWO BITS, THE CHAMBER, FEAR, TVís GUN and THE CORRUPTOR; titles which read like the clues to the Super Password that is CONFIDENCE. But before you get taken for your two bits, take a deep breath, count to ten and realize that youíve seen this done before and much, much better.

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