July 14, 2007

The Grifters

The Grifters
directed by Steven Frears, 1990

This movie combines a lot of my favorite genre tropes and mixes them up into a great pulpy psychodrama. You got your Jim Thompson story cataloging the dark side of the American Dream as usual. You got your Frears eye for colorful mise-en-scene that makes you feel somehow boxed in and wide-open vulnerable at the same time. And of course you got the kind of acting that just knocks your socks off.

I don't think John Cusack's ever been better - brilliantly cast. Annette Bening is pitch-perfect throughout. And man that Angelica Huston... she is just such a good film actress it's insane. The highest compliment I can pay the other actors in this movie is that they manage to hold their own in the same room as her - her character here has got layers and twists and depths and just wow.

Think I may have to do a little 90s-noir festival for myself ... Red Rock West, Last Seduction, etc. Got any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

All I can do is agree - this is one of my all-time faves. Depressing as hell, too, I thought. Maybe it was the mood I was in when I watched it.


reviewstew said...

Oh no, "depressing as hell" definitely covers it! Just so harrowing and base and really dismissive of human beings as anything but feral creatures.

There's that little schadenfreude lift you get from watching a movie like this though. Different from a novel (for me) in that it's easier to see the people on the screen as "others," and only let yourself see them as mirrors when you want to.

ASM said...

I actually just saw this film. I completely agree with you that the acting is amazing, particularly Cusack and Huston (who is indeed a wonder to behold). I'm most impressed by how well they both sell the incest: they show enough tenderness and pathos that the maternal tie convinces, but also cultivate enough tension, mystery, and restraint to make the sexual desire seem a potent threat. Their interactions cast a delicious shadow in every scene they share. I'm not a connoisseur of 90s-noir, but I did like this one.

reviewstew said...

Thanks for stopping by, asm. And you're right, it's that kind of balance that the actors achieve, where the self-revulsion is somehow part and parcel of the desire, and the two feed off each other ... that's precisely what makes it feel "real." These are fucked-up people, they know it about themselves, and yet they keep playing the game because they don't know how else to be.

It's a pretty serious indictment of human nature (and maybe capitalism too). And I agree 100% that it's all sold by the acting. Imagine the same script, but with actors of any lower skill-level, and it would fall on its face as a ludicrous farce, no?

ASM said...

I've enjoyed reading both this and your music blog, review stew. I definitely can't imagine other actors in those parts.

While the characters in the film do behave like feral creatures, as you put it, I was surprised by how much empathy the film evoked, at least for me. It's actually difficult to find fault with Roy (he genuinely seems to be trying to strive for some kind of morality or honor), and even his incestuous desires seem kind of sympathetic since he's trying to hold them in check - a rough head trip for a filmmaker to pull on the audience. But, yeah, I can definitely see it as an indictment of human nature and capitalism. I just think that the indictment of human nature is somewhat mitigated if at any point you as the audience feel compassion for the characters.