The Grifters Reviews
This movie takes way, way, way too long to set everything up and for the first half, it feels like it's rambling on, directionless, and with no idea where its going or how to get there... until the last half hour when the film seems to suddenly realize "Oh, right! We have a plot to go through!"
It's a bit of a shame considering the big three actors involved (John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, and Annette Bening) are all quite talented and do the best they can. Bening is far and away the film's MVP, and the only deserving Oscar nod the film got. She's just simply amazing. Cusack and Huston are pretty good, too, and considering how young Cusack was when he made this (Say Anything had come out a year before this film did), that's pretty impressive.
Aside from Bening, there's really only one other praiseworthy aspect of the film, and that's the score. Other than that, it's a mess.
The Grifters stars John Cusack as a hustler, Anjelica Huston as his estranged mother, and Annette Bening as his slut of a girlfriend. For a movie about cons, it takes a remarkable amount of time for the plot to cohere, and even when it does, nobody cares. Cusack, a strong actor, brings absolutely none of his charisma to his character, making him a flat and dull lead who is hard to make a connection with. He's no less arrogant or self-righteous than that people he swindles. Oh, and by the way, he only actually swindles two people in this movie, and absolutely fucks up one time. Which makes you wonder how he ended up with so much cash stored around his house.
The dialogue in this film is atrocious. I can only think that the director wanted to shoot for some kind of an avant-garde, neo-noir pop art kind of vibe, but it all comes across as forced and awkward. Cusack and Huston's scenes feel especially staged, and they spout off poorly conceived lines with all the subtlety of a chainsaw. They sound as if they've been plucked straight from a 1930s gangster flick, but when put in a world like the 1980s, everything feels jarringly out of place. The whole thing plays out like a far less intelligent, completely unintriguing version of American Hustle, which actually brought some stuff to the table with this concept. The Grifters, however, is for some reason content to wallow in its own lack of creativity and drag on for two hours, while its simplistic and yawn-inducing story could have been told in less than twenty minutes. Nearly the whole film feels like padding.
The camerawork is atrocious as well, showcasing some extremely awkward close-ups and dozens of scenes that aren't even lit properly. It's not just the cinematography that's poor; the costume design and sets are ugly as hell. Sure, the movie is trying to capture an era when wallpaper and bad carpeting filled our homes, cars looked like cardboard boxes on wheels, and bouffants were "in." But why couldn't the filmmakers showcase the better parts of the time? I'm not asking for idealism, but holy fuck, every scene in this movie looks washed-out and deliberately ugly.
Final Score for The Grifters: 3/10 stars. It features a strangely committed performance from Annette Bening, and the story (when it's actually present) is somewhat intriguing, but there is almost nothing recommendable about this flat, lifeless, and painful mess. If anything, it has taught me never to watch movies that my parents picked out. The movie is a chore to sit through, with all the charm and charisma of your great-aunt's condo complex. Unless you're in the mood for seeing John Cusack stare with his mouth open, I think it's safe to say that you can skip this one.