Rated R - Running Time: 1:38 - Released 4/25/03

As “big con” movies go, James Foley’s Confidence is adequately fun and twisty (albeit somewhat predictable), but it would be a lot more effective were it not so clearly similar to classics of the genre like The Sting and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. It is not so much in writer Doug Jung’s story line that the likenesses occur, but in the style and tone of director Foley, whose best scenes seem to be the ones most like the other movies. While Ocean’s was not Soderbergh’s best work by any means, it was wealthier than this film, less seedy, more visually appealing, and contained many more interesting personae and bigger names in the cast. The one exception in this movie is Dustin Hoffman, who as usual crafts a memorably quirky character with much more depth than would be achieved by a lesser actor, and his presence makes a major difference in the film’s overall watchability factor.

Otherwise we have a group of talented but not stellar actors filling in basically similar parts to the usual collection of con crew members. For instance, instead of George Clooney as the Ocean’s group leader, we have Edward Burns (whose most visible role to date was probably his turn in Saving Private Ryan); instead of Julia Roberts as the femme fatale we have Rachel Weisz; instead of Andy Garcia...well, okay, we still have Andy Garcia. In addition to having the stylistic feel of an Ocean’s ripoff, some scenes are so closely patterned after that film, the similarity cannot possibly be missed. I’m thinking in particular of the scene where Burns meets Weisz—the events of the scene and even some of their dialogue matches the Ocean’s scene in which Clooney meets Matt Damon. If you’re going to craft a film so similar to a recent, highly acclaimed release, at least alter the wording so it’s not such an obvious derivation.

Burns plays L.A. grifter Jake Vig, whose team has just suffered the loss of one of its members in a hired hit by legendary gangster boss “The King” (Hoffman). This was for a debt unrelated to Vig’s organization, but he still desires revenge, so he goes to King and offers to collaborate with him on a major bank heist, which will pay off the former partner’s debt and make everything square between them. (Of course, as with almost all the people in the movie, Jake’s real intentions may be different from those stated.) King agrees, supplying Jake with a watchdog (Franky G.) in addition to his regular remaining crew (Paul Giamatti, Brian Van Holt, and new recruit Weisz). With the help of a few crooked cops (Donal Logue, Luis Guzmán), and always a few steps ahead of the intrepid special agent who’s been dogging him for most of his career (Garcia), they enact a complex and brilliant scheme to relieve the city’s wealthiest banker (Robert Forster) of 5 million cold, hard semolians. Sorry, after watching a film like this I can’t help but pick up the lingo.

One clever aspect of this film is that it is ostensibly narrated by Jake after he is dead, in a series of flashbacks. The first flashback takes us to a few minutes before he is dead, where he then relates the whole story of the last 3 weeks to his executioner, with a gun pressed firmly to his head. This gives the film a novel, last-things-first approach somewhat akin to that of Christopher Nolan's brilliant Memento, but there again, the present film seems to suffer in the comparison. Confidence may have plenty of cojones, but there are frankly too many similarities to better movies to make it more than a footnote in the con caper genre. ***½

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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