Grifters, The (1990): Frears’ Oscar Nominated American Feature Debut, Starring Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening

Produced by Martin Scorsese, The Grifters marks British director Stephen Frears’ auspicious American debut, after excelling in helming “My Beautiful Launderette” and “Dangerous Liaisons.”

Centering on three grifters who are always on the lookout for an easy hustle, this exuberant, highly involving picture boasts a tightly focused, sharply observed narrative about con artists who consciously and unconsciously let their private lives interfere with their risky professional activities.

Having done his homework, the fearlessly diverse Frears has immersed himself in unique L.A. world of film noir. The movie proudly stands alongside such classics of the genre as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Big Sleep,” and “Out of the Past,” and particularly “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” working a twist on Huston’s psychological study of greed.

Continuing her streak of success that began with the Oscar-winning turn in “Prizzi’s Honor,” Anjelica Huston plays Lily Dillon, an ultra-experienced pro who specialized in racetrack odds altering. In contrast, Lily’s son Roy (John Cusack) is a small-time grifter, hustling sailors and bartenders with loaded dice and sleight-of-hand tricks.

Triangle involves Roy’s girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening), who likes corporate action, a field shes easily able to ply with her sexy body and wardrobe of Channel suits.

Lily was a very young mothershe had Roy when she was a girl. Over the years, the two have gone their separate ways. They meet up again in California, where Lily, regaining her maternal instincts, takes an immediate dislike to Myra. Her ill feeling is met and matched by Roy, who has never resolved his filial feelings for Lily, and Myra, who, having been rebuffed by Lily, resolves to exact revenge and bring her down.

The climax involving Lily and Roy, one of the most shocking in film noir, is by turns swift, ugly, cathartic and ultimately elegiac.

Adapted from modish tough-guy writer Jim Thompsons novel, Donald Westlakes script has the right combination of vivid characters, mordant wit and avaricious savagery, which distinguishes the best noir. The characters speak in a faintly disconcerting 1950s lingo, which adds an authentic flavor to the suggestive stew Frears has concocted.

Frears takes a shrewd, light approach to the saga, always keeping the action speedy and snappy, and peppering many of the interactions-including those between mother and son-with unparallel erotic charge.

All three actors rise to the occasion, particularly Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening. Much smarter and sexier than she looked in “Valmont,” the flop of the year before, Bening has one particularly hilarious scene, which she plays in the nude in the most unselfconscious manner.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Director: Stephen Frears
Screenplay (Adapted): Donald E. Westlake
Actress: Anjelica Huston
Supporting Actress: Annette Bening

Credits

Distributor: Miramax
Director: Stephen Frears
Producers: Martin Scorsese, Robert A. Harris, James Painten
Screenplay: Donald E. Westlake, based on the novel by Jim Thompson
Camera: Oliver Stapleton
Editor: Mick Audsley
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Production Design: Dennis Gassner

MPAA: R Rating
Running time: 119 minutes

Cast

Lily Dillon (Anjelica Huston)
Roy Dillon (John Cusack)
Myra Langtry (Annette Bening)
Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle)
Simms (Henry Jones)

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