Do con-men and women really look this dashing? If so, I’m not cut-out for the job.
Lilly Dillon (Huston) is a veteran con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy (Cusack), a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury when hit with a thrust from the blunt end of a baseball bat, right after a failed scam. However, she doesn’t realize that her boy has fixed himself up with a dame (Annette Bening) that may not seem to be all that she appears to be.
Calling this movie a “thriller” would not be doing it any justice, and I’m still contemplating on whether or not it’s the good type of justice, or the bad. Good, mainly because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool, but at the same time, bad, because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool. See, it’s not the type of film about cons that you’d expect. It’s not filled with a big-heist, it’s not filled with thrilling suspense and action to hold you over, and it’s not even really filled with that many twists or turns. Instead, it’s sort of like the day-time soap opera version of a movie about cons and that’s both good, and bad. It’s very love-hate with me here, and I think you’re about to find that out.
The problem I ran into with this flick was that I feel like it would be going-on in such a slow, tedious-pace that it almost felt deliberate. Most movies that have this slow pace, usually do it for the same reasons that this flick did it, but it works a lot better for them since it’s exactly how the story should be told and judges how effective it will be to the viewer. However, with a story/movie like this, the slower-pace doesn’t quite work as well as it might think and continued to piss me off, because every time the film felt like it was really getting somewhere and picking-up itself and all of the pieces it was leaving on the ground, it would just stop, take a moment to pause, and jog it’s way through.
It was like me in a 5k mile run. I start off so perfectly, then I realize I put too much energy into the first 5 minutes, then I decide to slow things down, almost to the point of where I begin to walk, then, I get some inspiration and energy in my step and begin to run again, and then so-on, and so-forth, all up-until I get to the finish-line and everybody treats me like I just cured cancer, even despite me coming in 2nd to last place. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes with me (I obviously always win those runs, obviously…), but that’s how I felt with this flick and I feel like director Stephen Frears was just toying with me on-purpose. In some ways that works and makes the flick seem less predictable as it strings along, but in other ways, it just feels cheap and sort of like the director wants to be like the characters and play a sick, cat-and-mouse game that some people may not be too happy with in the end when they find out what’s to come of it all.
However, I can’t hate on Frears too much because no matter how slow and languid the pace got, I was always interested in seeing what was going to happen next. The story definitely takes it’s fair-share of detours into the past and they are definitely what feature the most energy and fun of the whole flick, but whenever it focuses on these characters, what they’re doing now, how they’re getting their money, and who’s playing who, the film still stays fun, if not all that energetic as the flashback sequences. Seeing cons do their thing like no other is always a blast to see on-screen and rather than just having it be a flick that exposes trick-after-trick, we get more of a balanced look at how broken and dull some of these cons lives are, and how money cannot buy them happiness and instead, only buys them more trouble. You actually care for these characters and that’s only what raises the stakes even more when the unpredictable-factor of this story comes into play, and you feel like you have no idea where it’s going to go or how, you just know that somebody is playing somebody. Then again, when you think about life and all that is: aren’t we all?
Okay, away from the philosophical ramblings of a 19-year-old film critic, back to the movie at-hand here. Yeah, the Grifters. I think without this trio of leads that the flick features, it probably would have folded underneath it’s own weight but thankfully, this trio of leads are here and are here to give some magnificent performances that stick with you, long after the flick is over. Before ’90, John Cusack was mainly known for racing randomly in the streets and always knowing the right Peter Gabriel track to have the ladies swooning, but once the year 1990 actually hit and this flick came-around, people began to look at him differently and realize something about him: this guy’s all grown-up. Cusack never really got a chance to stretch his acting-skills back in those days, mainly because everybody thought he was made for just hooking-up with high-school girls and in a way, they may have been right, but Cusack proved them all wrong and showed that the guy could play a sly, evil son-of-a-bitch that was as slick as they come and didn’t know when to stop pulling-in jobs and ranking-up the dough. Cusack always seems like a believable character and that’s all because the guy never over-does his whole cool essence and look to his act and always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody else in the flick, as well as the audience themselves, yet, we always like him and cheer for him as things begin to go South for his hormones and his job. I guess being a con is considered a job and if so, he definitely must have had to won “Employee of the Month”, at least once.
Anjelica Huston plays his mommy, who just so happens to be 14-years-older than him and shows you that the gal can, as usual, play a strong-willed and big-brained, female-lead like no other and as much as this may seem like a convention of hers by now, I still can’t hold that against her. Huston’s great with this role and you always wonder whether or not she is Roy’s mom, his lover, a past-fling, or simply, just some chick who’s trying to play a con on him and get his stash of cash. Like the rest of the characters in this trio, you never know what’s up with her and what her next move is going to be, but like typical, Huston-fashion, she always keeps you guessing and interested. Still, I was just waiting for that wig to come off. I could not believe how legitimate it truly was in terms of the story and setting.
The best out of this trio, and the one who really stands-out among the rest is probably Annette Bening as Myra, the fellow-squeeze of Roy. Bening, no offense to her or her looks, has never really been the type of actress that I could really declare “sexy”, “hot”, or even one that I would just have to take to bed, if I saw her in real-life (because they all would go to be with me, let’s face it), but here, she totally had me re-think that. Bening uses her flair for sexuality and nudity to her advantage and has her character come-off as a bit of a tramp, but a smart tramp at best, and a tramp that knows exactly what she’s doing, even if the others may not be able to catch onto it right just yet. Out of of the three, you’ll be wondering the most what side Bening’s is on and when you finally get your answer, you may be shocked, you may not be, but what you will be, is surprised by how much Bening uses the look and feel of sex-appeal to make a character that’s full of it, really, really work.
Consensus: Stephen Frears’ direction definitely makes you feel as if he is just playing with you, just in-order to be more like his subjects, but that’s why The Grifters does, and does not work in it’s own right. However, you can’t deny the charm and power that is within these three performances and it’s just wonderful to see them act each-and-every-single-one of their asses off, even if the pace seems to not be serving them the full-plate that they so rightfully deserves.
With this and ‘War Horse’, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of all these damn horses!
Former bicycle repairman, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) made his fortune introducing the automobile to the American West and owned a small knobbly-kneed horse called Seabiscuit. Howard teamed up with a half-blind ex-boxing prize fighter, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), who became the horse’s jockey and a former mustang breaker Wild West performer called The Lone Plainsman aka Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), who became the horse’s trainer.
Just by looking at this film you should know just what you are about to get right away. Yes, this is another sports film that is of course about the underdog, or in this case, the underhorse and there’s not much different here. Still, it’s a sports film that works none the less.
Director/writer Gary Ross doesn’t try to do anything new or even original with this material, other than just give us a nice story about “the little horse that could” and that’s not all that bad considering it’s a fun film. Everybody loves to see the long shot win so when you watch these characters and of course Seabiscuit himself try their hardest to do whatever it takes to win the next race, you can’t help but root for everybody involved because you know that it’s a true story and a great story at that.
Ross also doesn’t try to be subtle with this, which in most cases would bother the ever lovin’ hell out of me, but for some reason that wasn’t the case here. Ross constantly keeps knocking us over the heads with everything he’s trying to say and get across with this story: whatever mood these characters are feeling, the American public feels as well; Red and Seabiscuit are basically the same characters but in different life-forms; and Red long lives for a father that left him when he was a child which means you can start to see Charles father him. Ross does everything here to get these points and ideas across in the most obvious way possible but I think it added a lot of emotion to the story by making this more than just a flick about a horse that wins races, it’s more about how America felt during the Depression and how events such as a race-horse, gave hope to almost everyone who needed it the most.
The racing scenes I may add are very fun and filmed incredibly well to the point of where it looks like actual footage but there were problems with the fact that they just sound too unrealistic. I know this sounds like a weird complaint but being a person that has and still does play sports all of his life, the fact that you can have some a horse gallop behind you and it sounds like there is about 400 horses doing the same thing kind of bothers me. I get it, they want to capture the intensity of the whole feel and atmosphere of what it feels like to be out on that track but I highly doubt another jokey could hear anybody as perfect as they hear each other, while racing, and there is race going on itself. This isn’t just a problem with this film, it’s a problem with almost all sports film and the fact that the over-emphasizing of sounds hasn’t left that genre yet, still shows us that we still can’t have a realistic sports film that shows you what’s its really like to be out there in action.
Let’s also not forget to mention that this film is an astounding 2 ½ hours, where we don’t even get introduced to the h0rse until 45 minutes in. I kept watching the time and wondering just when I was going to see the horse itself, but I guess Ross was more focused on showing Peter Parker getting the crap kicked out of him playing a boxer. It also sucks that when the film actually ends, its very abrupt and we don’t really get a chance to see what happened to these characters. Usually these types of films end with a few words up on the screen but for some odd reason we were just left with the cold shoulder. Then again, I guess that’s why they call it ‘Wikipedia’.
The cast is also very impressive and carries this film through a lot. Tobey Maguire is a great fit for Red, this angry and frustrated type that seems a little weird at first but actually is a real human-being that actually has faith in this horse, which is just about contagious. Jeff Bridges is a whole lot of fun as Charles Howard who always seems to be so jolly and happy throughout the whole film, but when something bad happens, and oh does it ever, you really feel it coming right from his heart. This is one of those times where Bridges just looks like he’s taking advantage of a role that just suits his likability so damn well. Chris Cooper is also great as Tom Smith, a guy who seems like he cares about horses more than he does humans, but he sort of takes the back-burner to everybody else here and it’s a shame since his character was probably the richest when it came to being passionate. William H. Macy also has a fun little role as a radio announcer, Tick Tock McGlaughlin, and perfectly captures the sound, look, and act of a 1930′s radio broadcaster.
Consensus: Seabiscuit is a flick that is fun, entertaining, inspirational, and very well-acted by everybody involved, but it’s a little too long for my well-being and there are too many opportunities to really capitalize on the emotions here, that sort of just don’t work like you’d expect them to.