The time has come for filmmakers to realize that they’re being annoying, rather than hip, when they replicate the hard-boiled curlicues of classic film-noir dialogue. In the age of Bogart and Mitchum, an actor who spoke in stylized tough-guy-ese was inevitably the strongest man in the room, with enough testosterone to make even threats sound poetic. But in a modern thriller, when you hear a line like ”This guy holds a grudge better than my ex-mother-in-law,” the tin-rattle cuteness of the sentiment renders everyone involved weak rather than tough: the actor who said it, the screenwriter and director who thought that they were being ingratiatingly vintage.
Confidence is riddled with these sorts of quips, and for about 20 minutes, I was cringing on cue. Fortunately, Edward Burns, whose con-artist gang leader is forced to deliver them, is one of the least ingratiating actors around, and I mean that as a compliment. Handsome in a steely, remote way, with small cold eyes that don’t so much interact with people as appraise them, Burns has never lost his Long Island Irish diffidence. In ”Confidence” (short, of course, for the ”confidence game”), he’s in prime form as a grifter whose refusal to show his hand allows him to walk an invisible line between jerkiness and savoir faire.
Directed by James Foley, ”Confidence” may be mannered at times, but its shell-game plot is alive with organic trickery. In the best scene, Burns and his crew ensnare a roly-poly bank employee by flattering him with the cachet of their company. What’s fun is less the ornateness of the scheme – they need him to transfer $5 million to a bank in Belize – than the way the scam is showcased as an unabashed form of theater. Dustin Hoffman, as a sexually ambiguous gangster whom everyone is out to fleece, phones in his ire, but Andy Garcia, playing a cop who trails Burns with Javertian fervor, shows a newly grizzled sly-mutt style that makes you glad that no one tried to make him sound like a baroque ’40s tough.