The Grifters (1990) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Grifters (1990)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

The Grifterssuperbly directed by Stephen Frears, beautifully adapted by Donald E. Westlake from a novel by Jim Thompson is a superlative, psychological drama and one of the finest film noir of the decade. In contemporary Los Angeles, Roy Dillon (John Cusack), a cynical con artist makes his living by small-time hustling. His trampy, deceptively empty-headed girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) has bigger plans for him. These plans are foiled when Roy is badly hurt by a bartender he is attempting to cheat and is desperately in need of medical attention. He is aided by his estranged mother, Lily (Angelica Huston), an experienced professional con-artist who works for the mob. Lily makes sure that Roy has the medical attention he needs, and incurs the wrath of her employer when she costs him alot of money because she is late in making her bets. Lily and Myra take an instant dislike to each other and compete for Roy's affections. On a trip to the racetrack, Myra, unknown to Lily, spies on her stealing money and informs her boss. Lily, desperate to save her life goes to Roy and begs for money to escape and make a new life. Lily, discarded by Roy, follows her seeking revenge. The film quickly comes to a stunning, suprisingly poignant ending. The Grifters is exceptional in capturing the atmosphere of Los Angeles and showing the life of the con-artists who operate there. It also handles its unusual subplot dealing with the odd, sexually ambiguous relationship of Lily and Roy, the child she gave up and now hopes to reclaim. John Cusack gives a restrained, nuanced performance as the sly, manipulative and sexually-confused Roy. Annette Bening is also extremely good as Myra, an unscrupulous woman who uses her body to get what she wants. However, the move really belongs to Angelica Huston, who gives an outstanding, complex Oscar award winning performance as a woman who will do anything to survive. The long finale sequence of the film, as Lily attempts to persuade Roy to help her is outstanding in the understanding and psychological depth both Huston and Cusack bring to their roles. Huston is simply stunning as she leaves Roy's apartment intent on surviving despite the emotional cost. Stephen Frears handles this complicated material with great still and understanding, and received a well-deserved Oscar nomination, as did Bening and scriptwriter Donald Westlake.more
Rating: R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Donald E. Westlake
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jun 30, 1998
HBO Video


John Cusack
as Roy Dillon
Anjelica Huston
as Lilly Dillon
Annette Bening
as Myra Langtry
Pat Hingle
as Bobo Justus
Ray Sharkey
as FBI Man
Jan Munroe
as Guy at Bar
Ed Jones
as Mintz
Xander Berkeley
as Lieutenant Pierson
Juliet Landau
as Lilly (age 19-22)
Bradley Pierce
as Roy (age 5)
Ashton Buzamat
as Roy (age 8)
Gregory Sporleder
as Sailor - Spooney
Ron Campbell
as 2nd Clerk
Paul Adelstein
as 1st Soldier
Jeremy Piven
as 2nd Soldier
Gregory Sporlader
as 3rd Soldier
David Sinaiko
as 4th Soldier
Jon Gries
as Drunk's Friend
Sy Richardson
as Cab Driver
Frances Bay
as Arizona Motel Clerk
Teresa Gilmore Capps
as Receptionist 1
Jimmy Noonan
as Bartender
John Gillespie
as Bartender
Elizabeth Ann Feeley
as 2nd Receptionist
Trisha King
as 1st Beachgoer
Robert J. Weems
as Racetrack Announcer
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Grifters

Critic Reviews for The Grifters

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (10)

Best to savor The Grifters for its handsome design -- the picture looks as clean as a Hockney landscape -- and its juicy performances.

Full Review… | November 6, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

A mannerist thriller that doesn't begin to work despite the number of talented hands involved.

Full Review… | November 6, 2009
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Cusack underplays Roy, making him an unbelievable wiseguy, a colorless cipher too akin to the saps he loves to fleece.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Top Critic

Donald Westlake's excellent screenplay does some justice to the starkness of Jim Thompson's novel; and Frears' direction never fails to grab the attention.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The Grifters is so good that one leaves the theater on a spellbound high.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

This is one human board game that's absorbing to watch.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Grifters


A forgettable outing from one of my favourite directors, unfortunately. Annette Bening is a sparkplug, Angelica Huston is electric, and the final act is a knockout. Unfortunately, the film bounces around for the first hour or more, in a way that, instead of building intrigue, is jarring and kind of confusing. Every time you think you understand what's happening with a character, the film cuts away and focuses elsewhere. It's not the three way chase that has been mastered elsewhere (see: No Country for Old Men), it's just a rote series of flashes. This film could easily have been 20 minutes shorter. But, to its credit, most of the threads dropped in the wandering earlier portion are picked up in the end, and the final half hour is gripping. Definitely an immature film from Frears, and one that was probably over-rated due to its adhesion to that weird early 90s neo-noir thing (see: Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, etc.). If you turned it off before getting to the ending, I won't hold it against you.

Daniel Perry

Super Reviewer


This is my semi-strange parallel: I see this film as a depraved, con man version of My Cousin Vinny. It's regional, it's tricky, and it's female character driven, even though the protagonist in each is ostensibly the male. But I think it's mostly because Annette Bening's character reminds me a lot of Marisa Tomei's, body hugging dress and all.

Jennifer Xu

Super Reviewer

ok first of all..for those who don't know what a grifter is, its when a person manipulates another individual to give them money leaving you high and dry.
this film is based on a novel and it follows a trio of con artists who are intent on out-foxing each other.
great performances and a solid script

♥Robyn M♥

Super Reviewer

The Grifters Quotes

– Submitted by Vida D (22 months ago)
– Submitted by Vida D (22 months ago)

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