The Grifters (1990)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Director Stephen Frears' tense adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel The Grifters was one of a number of revival film noirs in the first half of the '90s. Updating the setting to contemporary Los Angeles, the film follows a trio of con artists who are intent on out-foxing each other. Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a simple, two-bit con, whose life is thrown into turmoil when his estranged mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) returns home in an attempt to evade the law. Lilly doesn't warm to Roy's girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who is too similar to herself. Soon, the two women are competing for Roy in a battle that is more of a power struggle than a pursuit of affection, and the battle quickly turns dangerous. Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for her work.
R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
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John Cusack
as Roy Dillon
Anjelica Huston
as Lilly Dillon
Annette Bening
as Myra Langtry
Pat Hingle
as Bobo Justus
J.T. Walsh
as Cole
Charles Napier
as Rebbing
Ray Sharkey
as FBI Man
Jan Munroe
as Guy at Bar
Henry Jones
as Simms
Ed Jones
as Mintz
Xander Berkeley
as Lieutenant Pierson
Sandy Baron
as Doctor
Lou Hancock
as Nurse
Juliet Landau
as Lilly (age 19-22)
Bradley Pierce
as Roy (age 5)
Ashton Buzamat
as Roy (age 8)
Jack McGee
as Clerk
Ron Campbell
as 2nd Clerk
Gregory Sporleder
as Sailor - Spooney
Paul Adelstein
as 1st Soldier
Jeremy Piven
as 2nd Soldier
Gregory Sporlader
as 3rd Soldier
David Sinaiko
as 4th Soldier
Jeff Perry
as Drunk
Micole Mercurio
as Waitress
Jon Gries
as Drunk's Friend
Sy Richardson
as Cab Driver
Frances Bay
as Arizona Motel Clerk
Teresa Gilmore Capps
as Vickie the Receptionist
Jimmy Noonan
as Bartender
John Gillespie
as Bartender
Elizabeth Ann Feeley
as 2nd Receptionist
Trisha King
as 1st Beachgoer
Eddie Jones
as Mintz
Robert J. Weems
as Racetrack Announcer
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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 17, 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 23, 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… | December 31, 1999
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Grifters


A young con artist learns the hard way that relationship problems cannot be solved with money. And there's a crapload of money here on display. Every time you look somebody is reaching into a bag to pull out stacks of green. Stacks of green laying around like a Halloween candy grab. And while Cusack and Bening are okay in this, make no mistake this is Anjelica Huston's movie. The best scene is between her and Pat Hingle, who can pull off psycho/wackjob with the best of them.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


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
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
Jennifer Xu

Super Reviewer

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