When you have Martin Scorsese producing and Stephen Frears directing you are bound to get something intriguing, and The Grifters is just that. It’s a Neo-Noir starring John Cusack (no Lloyd Dobler), Angelica Huston and Annette Benning. It’s got everything you can expect with a title like that from small-time swindling and horse races in La Jolla to deadly Femme Fatales with shady intent.
The film really has three stars in the above, but at the center of it is young grifter Roy (Cusack) who has been doing nicely for himself ever since he went off on his own. But his type of life does not come without a price. Lilly (Huston) is an old vet who has worked all the angles for a long time and now she is in the service of one tyrant of a bookie named Bobo. She hasn’t seen her son for 8 years, and all of sudden she comes back into his life finding him in need of medical attention. Their reunion is far from civil.
Then last but not least is the despicable Myra (Benning) who seduces her way into the hearts and the wallets of many men. Now she’s with Roy but before there was another con man and she is far from exclusive using her sexual wiles to get anything and everything she wants. It’s not surprising Lilly can’t stand her guts. No one could. If he’s honest not even Roy. Soon enough Lilly poisons him towards Myra and the seductress wants revenge and she seemingly gets it.
What follows involves lots of blood, lots of money, and a descent deeper towards a hellish conclusion that feels hollow and cold. Elmer Bernstein’s score accentuates the mood with a tense and altogether creepy string section. As far as character dynamics, go this has to be the strangest triangles around. Each one of these confidence tricksters is a grifter and each one has a slightly different angle. However, when it’s all said and done only one of them can come out on top even if they didn’t want it to end that way. That’s just the way things go. There is no turning back, only running away for dear life.
The three leads played their roles to a tee and The Grifters proved generally engaging even if all the questions were not answered with loose ends still to be tied up. It also blends the general themes and outlook of noir with a setting that almost feels anachronistic at times. It’s hardly a complaint though and maybe things are better this way anyhow.