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Posts Tagged ‘Confidence’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published  September 4th 2003:

It’s usually a pretty good sign of a film’s success, both creatively and financially, if, within a year or two of its release knock-offs, pastiches and wannabes suddenly flood the multiplexes across the land. Most of the real mega-hits spawn their clouds of (usually) inferior clones, but one film I didn’t expect to trigger the same response was last year’s Ocean’s Eleven. A very slick, funny, stylish and entertaining film, to be sure, and one which I very much enjoyed, but not one I would’ve predicted as starting a trend.

Well, who’d’ve guessed it, but I was wrong again. Admittedly there haven’t been that many Ocean’s Eleven knock-offs, but they all indelibly bear the imprimatur of their inspiration, and James Foley’s Confidence is no exception, although one could equally well argue it owes debts to The Usual Suspects, Heat, and – inevitably – Tarantino.

Ed Burns plays Jake Vig, leader of a crack team of con-men working in Los Angeles. Their usual routine is polished and effective, until they unwittingly take the money of local nasty-piece-of-work the King, played by Dustin Hoffman. Dustin is understandably irked by this impudence and offs one of the team, prompting Jake to cut a deal: Jake and the gang will take Dustin’s rival Morgan Price (Robert Forster, woefully underused) for five million dollars and split the proceeds with him, thus settling their financial differences if nothing else. Supposedly to help with the job, but I suspect mainly because it’s a novel chat-up line, Jake also recruits raven-tressed pickpocket Lily (lovely lovely Rachel Weisz). And the stage is set for… well, dullness and confusion, actually.

This is mainly down to the writing, as you might expect. Writer Doug Jung apparently has some background in TV, but this is his first feature script and it kind of shows. Without wishing to be too unkind – some of the dialogue has a certain snap and crackle to it – I get the impression he really wished he’d written Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, etc, and decided to go ahead and kind of do so anyway. The tricky flashback structure, the multiple twists and use of cut-scenes, the occasional stylistic flourishes – we’ve really seen all of them before elsewhere.

Even so, lack of originality isn’t necessarily a sin. But this kind of caper movie should have a kind of swashbuckling flair to it, and be all about false moustaches and forged paintings and breaking into bank vaults by unlikely means. Confidence‘s big scam revolves around… wait for it… corporate law and procuring an iffy bank loan. That’s it, that’s the great challenge facing these characters. Jung tries to liven things up by stirring in subplots about Jake being chased by a vengeful federal agent (a grizzled-looking Andy Garcia) and Lily selling him out to his intended victim, but it really doesn’t help, because the script is fundamentally flawed. Some of the flashbacks actually happen, others are – in the context of the film – fictitious, but it’s not made clear which are which. The way the Garcia subplot is resolved basically reveals, if you think about it, that Jake is a really nasty piece of work. The obligatory twist ending is also actually sort of predictable.

However, a film isn’t just the work of the writer. Jake is clearly written as cool, commanding, charismatic, a combination of Clooney and de Niro. So it’s really a shame that Burns turns in a performance like Ben Affleck on valium, charmless and static. Paul Giamatti, as his neurotic sidekick, is really much more likeable and interesting. Rachel Weisz’s role is almost entirely decorative, not that I’m complaining too loudly (but they make her dye her hair red, for heaven’s sake!). The acting honours are undoubtedly stolen by Dustin Hoffman, playing a scabrous rodent of a man, capricious and weirdly menacing and possessed of a highly eccentric code of ethics (he gets to cop a feel of Weisz as well, as fine an incentive to take a part as any I can think of). As the film goes on he gets less and less to do, however.

As well as Hoffman, in its favour the film is reasonably well directed and the cinematography is excellent, grainy, vivid colours giving it a kind of neon-noir feel. The eclectic soundtrack is also something a plus, but on the whole this is very run-of-the-mill stuff, lacking originality and clarity. Confidence does not get my vote.

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