This neo-noir film embodies the dark heart of old film noir to a tee. When you have three characters who are all con artists come together, no good can come of it. And so it is in The Grifters.
Lilly (played by Angelica Huston, looking tough as nails with blonde hair and clothing of questionable taste) is a veteran con artist who works for a bookie skewing the odds by placing big bets on long shot horses. She runs across her son, Roy (played by a post-teen John Cusack), a small-time con, who at the time is a bit worse for wear having been beaten by one of his victims. Lilly seeks medical help, but – alas – small-time cons don’t carry insurance. So Lilly tells the doc, “Save my kid’s life or die.” Or words to that effect. Thus, even though Roy has no HMO, the doctor complies.
Roy has a girlfriend, Myra (played by Annette Bening, straight up the noir line with a slinky sexuality that almost screams “femme fatale”), who’s also into the long con.
And since Lilly and Myra don’t exactly hit it off, the result is fireworks.
Based upon Jim Thompson’s pulp novel, The Grifters lacks the depth and complexity of other neo-noir classics, such as Chinatown. However, given the progression of cons, schemes, and double-crosses among the three characters, it is indisputably a hardnosed adaptation of a truly noir story.
Stephen Frears, who directed the film, summed it up nicely. He described it as “pulp fiction meets Greek tragedy.”
One of the good ones, I’m giving this film a solid thumbs up!