We all love crime movies whose plot twists lead to crosses, double crosses, even triple crosses. Think of "The Score" (2001), with the delicious triumvirate of Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and Marlon Brando circling warily around each other as they plan and execute a daring theft. Remember how the unexpected double cross turns into an even more elegant triple cross. Now, with director James Foley's new film "Confidence," we're treated again to a thoroughly worthy con that makes us smile first with excitement and then with admiration at the lovely, well-executed switches.
Edward Burns is Jake Vig, a con artist and master of the grift who's worked his way across the United States for years with his little team, scamming and running their way to Los Angeles, where they now find themselves outmaneuvered by a local crime boss known as King (Dustin Hoffman). They've managed a big score -- $150,000 - without realizing that the money belonged to King. But they don't have it all anymore, so Jake must make a deal with King to score another grift off of King's rival Price (Robert Forster), who owns a commercial bank. The grift is to be even larger this time, so as to pay back the money. If not? Well, the opening shot of the movie shows Jake dead in an alley as we hear him say, voiceover, "So I'm dead."
The film then goes back three weeks to begin the story of how he got there. Jake picks up Lily, a sexy pickpocket (Rachel Weisz), adds her to the team, and they are on their way to remove $5 million from Price's bank. They happen to have a couple of bent L.A. cops in their pocket, but then the cops themselves have to contend with a federal agent who's been on Jake's track for years and can get to him by turning the cops again. Complicated, no?
Burns, who plays this role like a Ben Affleck wannabe, is a little too stiff and one-note to command the screen. And in his scenes with Hoffman he's reduced to acting like a background extra, standing in front of the master while Hoffman twirls him figuratively around his finger.
Nevertheless, the con proceeds, through lurches and sidetracks, but it does proceed, and Foley keeps us focused on it throughout (he directed the film of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross"). The dialogue by Doug Jung is pungent and to the point, and everyone does well. The film has a nice rhythm that builds to the climax, and the climax itself is very well staged and edited; we feel we're watching a tennis match as our heads are figuratively turned from side to side with each twist of the plot. All in all, a successful heist film that should get bonus points for cleverness.