Starring John Cusack, Angelica Huston, Annette Bening, Pat Hingle & JT Walsh.
Written by Donald E. Westlake.
Directed by Stephen Frears.
Lilly (Huston) works the racecourse for the crime kingpin Bobo Justus (Hingle). Her estranged son Roy (Cusack) maintains a living on the short-con, preying on unsuspecting bar patrons and the like. His girlfriend Myra (Bening) is also “on the grift”, advantageously using her physical wares yet aching for the bygone days of the elaborate long-con. When Roy winds up in hospital after an attempted swindle goes sour, Lilly visits her injured son and inadvertently sets off a chain of events that ultimately lead to tragedy. With incestuous overtones, a wickedly black sense of humour and the borrowings of 1940s film noir, The Grifters is a uniquely twisted tale of the con-artist lifestyle. Nearly every character in the film is an amoral soul – even the vaguely sympathetic figure of Roy is ice-cold. And it is a credit, mostly to screenwriter Westlake and author Jim Thompson (but let’s not forget the actors as well) that the film succeeds whilst wallowing in its oppressive motif. The Grifters is to my mind the excellent director Frears’ best film, with brilliant use of lighting textures and a warm, subtle sensibility to its’ art direction. Co-produced by Martin Scorsese (who also provides the brief narration at the beginning of the film), The Grifters remains one of the most under-appreciated films of the 1990s.
By Wadrick Jones