Owen Gleiberman
February 01, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Grifters

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
119 minutes
performer
Annette Bening, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Stephen Tobolowsky
director
Stephen Frears
genre
Mystery and Thriller, Drama

We gave it an A

In this exhilaratingly lean adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1963 novel, emotional gamesmanship reaches a new level of down-and-dirty clarity. The movie is about the intertwined lives of three smooth-as-silk con artists. Lilly (Anjelica Huston), a tough broad, works for the mob, betting on long shots in order to lower the odds. Her estranged son, Roy (John Cusack), practices the ”short con” — nothing but one-shot trick maneuvers. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening), a leggy vamp with a twinkle in her eye, is eager to get back into big-time swindles. The film is about how these self- sufficient tricksters are threatened, even destroyed, by their mutual involvement. Director Stephen Frears doesn’t shy away from Thompson’s low-down, film-noir skunkiness. At the same time, he encourages the actors to dig into the human core of the material. The movie is pulp, yet it attains a surprising emotional power — especially when Anjelica Huston’s Lilly, a survivor who’ll do whatever it takes to master her surroundings, is on-screen.

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