The opening scenes of Confidence, in which a team of young con artists pulls a deadly scam on a hapless small-time crook, are so intense, so visceral, so shockingly terrific that my movie companion and I looked at one another in total surprise. “Whew!” we whispered.”That was good!” In fact, Confidence was so good up to that point that I was utterly surprised when, about an hour later, I found myself bored to tears. How could a movie that started off so well turn out to be such a snoozer?
The answer to what’s wrong with a movie usually lies in the one- or two-sentence response to “Whadja think?” as you leave the theater. My answer was, “What a brilliant performance by Dustin Hoffman!” And that’s the point: Confidence was a great Dustin Hoffman experience, but not a great movie. Is it worth seeing? Yes — just be aware that if you pay full price, you’ll wish you hadn’t. Best bet is to catch Confidence at the lower-priced matinee and then you’ll have less to complain about.
The script by Doug Jung is certainly a laudable first effort, paying homage to such classic con-game flicks as 1973’s The Sting, and 2001’s The Heist. The story is basically of an exceedingly complicated con game in which a young scam artist and his buddies fleece a vicious crook out of a lot of money. As promising as Jung’s script is (it’s flashy, snazzy and intriguing), it suffers from too much gloss and not enough depth — flaws that should have been solved by director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), who failed to give the film the patina of maturity.
Confidence is full of good actors: the handsome Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan), the stunning Rachel Weisz (About A Boy), the enigmatic Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Eleven) and the intriguing Paul Giammatti (Big Fat Liar). Hoffman (Moonlight Mile), however, takes all the attention as a sleazy, sexually ambiguous, gum-chewing, psychotic crime boss. His performance is so impactful that everyone else’s pales miserably by comparison; so when he’s not onscreen and you’ve become inured to all the plot twists, the spark is gone.
Hoffman’s character is rich with history, desire and conflict, all clearly delineated in every facial twitch, every move of his wrist, every pounce of his body. We don’t know whether the screenwriter created the dialogue and action that built such a full character, or if Hoffman, consummate actor that he is, wrote additional material for himself. Regardless of the true authorship, the result is a full realized character (and experiencing that level of acting is unforgettable).
Which is not true for the other characters, about whom we are left clueless. Why did all these brilliant young people want to be con artists, risking life in prison, rather than going into an MBA program or working on Wall Street like normal greedy kids? Why would a woman as gorgeous and classy as Rachel Weisz’s character be a common thief when she could have the whole world on a string? Most perplexing, how does it happen that these youthful criminals are so tuned in to the smell of greed that they can detect kindred spirits everywhere they look — among cops, customs officials, bank executives, federal agents and others on whom the rest of us place our trust?