Jake has been shot – and left for dead – by somebody he tried to con. He actually tells us he’s dead. “OK, so I was dead,” he says in dourly matter-of-fact voiceover. But, as we gaze in confusion upon his ‘corpse’ in an alley, we realise a flashback is coming. The flashback arrives, on cue, and we enter the complex world of quick-thinking, imaginative professionals where smooth-talking antiheroes are able and eager to cheat unsuspecting victims out of their money or possessions. However, sometimes, a briefcase of cash acquired in a bogus ‘drugs’ deal belongs to another criminal subspecies altogether. Jake’s gang successfully relieve a very foolish and greedy ‘mark’ of his big bucks, unaware that he’s a mafia accountant working for Winston (Dustin Hoffman), so cool Jake pays this much-feared kingpin a visit, suggesting a far bigger con ($5 million) to appease the mob, and repay the stolen money – with interest. Unlikely as it seems, Winston agrees to fund Jake’s big plans for a big-time swindle against a rival crime boss, and the gang set about their dodgy business yet again with a (nonsensical) idea to defraud an investment banker (read that as international loan shark).
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However, almost everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Or so it seems, anyway…
This slickly paced, knowingly plotted and marginally entertaining drama of conmen in Los Angeles simply doesn’t have the disarmingly likeable characters of caper movies such as Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven remake. Nor does it have the Hitchcockian psychological trickiness of Mamet’s House Of Games (1987), or the gritty realistic style of Frears’ The Grifters (1990). In fact, confidence is about all Confidence has. There’s nothing here that aficionados of crime cinema haven’t already seen before in the countless imitators of 1970s’ classic The Sting. Edward Burns (from 15 Minutes) acts like a second-rate Ben Affleck, and he brings all the enthusiasm of a shop window dummy to his central role of Jake. As crooked FBI agent Butan, Andy Garcia seems lost in time from a different movie era entirely, while Hoffman’s sleazy gangster Winston is all dumb catchphrases and worrying mannerisms, lacking credibility as either a sadistic bully (he wants to be like Joe Pesci in Scorsese’s 1990 hit Goodfellas, but Hoffman hasn’t got a mean streak in him to draw on for his supposedly colourful role), or a crafty underworld leader and nightclub owner (he practically instructs the new pair of trainee strippers to keep their clothes on!), so he’s impossible to take seriously here – except perhaps as unintentional comic relief.
As beautiful pickpocket Lily, Rachel Weisz evinces teasing sex appeal, but does nothing with it. Luis Guzmán easily snaps up the acting honours as one half of an undercover cop duo, while Robert Forster does his usual bang-up job in a cameo, playing the big shot in a smart business suit. That said, the problem isn’t with the cast at all. Principally, it’s the predictable storyline that’s at fault here. Doug Jung wins this month’s screenwriting-by-numbers award with his script of clichés and improbable but foreseeable twists of the familiar three-act structure. Long before the unforgivably predictable ending comes around, you won’t really care if or how (here’s a clue: it’s more good luck than judgement) cynical Jake’s rascally gang of misfits get away with the loot.
The best bit: with Jake & Co loitering outside the bank to ‘audition’ some of the staff as potential candidates for their scam, there’s animated split-screen patches in the style of satirical personal column or joke dating agency adverts to describe the most ‘unsuitable’ characters.