KJ Doughton, 25 April 2003
After his recent nice-guy turns
in such emotional films as Moonlight Mile, Dustin Hoffman
completely reinvents himself in Confidence. Playing the
film’s villain, a kinky crime boss known as The King, Hoffman
conjures forth the spirit of an older, wiser Ratzo Rizzo and leaves
a trail of slime that completely immobilizes his co-stars. When we
first meet this scruffy, oily little sewer rat, he is furiously
channel surfing between horse races, porno films, and CNN newscasts
on a wall of surrounding televisions. The King, it would seem, is
the natural-born poster child for attention deficit disorder.
It comes off as a bit strange,
then, that Hoffman emerges as the most human character in
Confidence. A patchwork quilt equal parts The Sting, The
Grifters, Ocean’s Eleven, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, this
tale of con men, double crosses, and mind-bending plot twists
features suave Edward Burns as an ambitious grifter named Jake Vig.
The opening scenes illustrate what Vig does best, as he and a backup
team of crooked cops, pickpockets, and other swell folk swindle a
“mark” out of his cash-heavy briefcase. Unfortunately, the stolen
money belongs to The King, and Vig is understandably shaken when one
of his crew members is dispatched with a bullet to the head, in what
appears to be an act of retaliation. Will Vig be next on this angry
lowlife’s hit list?
Attempting to patch things up with
Hoffman’s underworld kingpin, Vig visits his nemesis face to face.
Creating his home base from an incredibly sleazy strip bar filled
with barely legal teenaged dancers, The King accepts Vig’s offer to
retrieve his money – and then some – through a complex bank loan
scam. This time around, Vig’s “mark” is big-fish banker Morgan Price
(Robert Forster), a longtime rival of The King.
Assisting Vig in his heist is a
motley crew that features Gordo (Paul Giamatti), a buddy with a weak
bladder who always seems en route to the nearest men’s room, and
Miles (Brian Van Holt), who often spends his share of the take on
strippers and lap dances. Lily (Rachel Weisz), a pickpocket whose
sexy-tough attitude finds favor with Vig, also joins the team, while
a couple of crooked L.A. cops (Donal Logue and Luis Guzman) round
out this den of flimflam masters.
To give away the detailed plot
blueprint of Confidence would be to spoil its many
entertaining surprises. Suffice it to say, the watertight wrap-up
seems to pass careful scrutiny, as persistent FBI agent Gunther
Butan (Any Garcia) enters the picture. As an intricate tangle of
loose ends, which are pleasingly tied together during its final
scene, the movie is admirable.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators of
such crafty swindles are a cynical, bloodless bunch that fails to
elicit much sympathy. When Vig and Lily talk a paternal jewelry
store owner out of a pair of earrings by convincing him that they
know his daughter, it’s meant to be cool and shrewd, but comes
across as merely mean-spirited. There’s ultimately more dimension
and humanity in Hoffman’s creepy entrepreneur than there is in Vig’s
antisocial hustler, an arrogant yuppie with Ken Doll looks and the
empty soul of a tailor’s dummy.
Meanwhile, much of Confidence’s
dialogue falls all over itself trying to one-up Tarantino’s tart
tongue. Before the film’s first scene has ended, we’ve been privy to
such verbiage as, “I’ve gotta pinch a loaf,” “Don’t mess up the
hoop,” and “You’ve got a lot of sack.” Later on, two men compare
family dental plans from the front seats of a sedan, in much the
same way that Samuel Jackson and John Travolta waxed philosophical
about cross-cultural culinary cuisine in Pulp Fiction. Such
rapport was crisp ten years ago, but it sounds awfully familiar this
What isn’t familiar is how Dustin
Hoffman embodies the sleaziest role of his career. In what could
have been a criminal stereotype, Hoffman plays The King as a toothy
slob with the groping, fidgety hands of a chronic sex offender. In
one scene, he undoes two shirtbuttons, places Weisz’s hand on his
chest, and requests that she feel his heartbeat. Soon, he has his
own intrusive paw on her flesh, exclaiming, “My God, you’re
beautiful.” Later, he grabs Vig’s face with both of his hands,
demanding, “Don’t get me scared.” This tactile neediness is far more
disturbing and original than anything a typical bruiser thug could
have brought to the role.
As a self-assured exercise in style
and plotting, I suppose that Confidence works. Yet, there’s
something emotionally unsatisfying about its characters, as they
fleece anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Despite its
handsome cinematography, slathered in thick, neo-noir shades of red
and blue, the film has no-one to root for. Place your bets on
Hoffman’s terrific portrayal of a weasely, wisecracking pervert,
however, and you’re sure to get your money’s worth.
Brian Van Holt
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult