Confidence is the type of film that slipped largely unnoticed through the movie theatres on release in 2003 and then made little impression in the video rental market, and is these days to be found making occasional unheralded appearances on the lesser known late night cable channel schedules. Which is all a bit of a shame, as it’s a smart and entertaining film with a strong big name cast that deserves rather better recognition.
The film came out shortly after the success of Ocean’s Eleven and clearly takes its inspiration from that film in its slick visual style and snappy editing by director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) along with a playful sense of humour amidst the heist sleight-of-hand chicanery that is capably laid out by writer Doug Jung. Composer Christophe Beck even does a pretty good job of evoking David Holmes’ famous Oceans jazz-influenced score. However the setting for Confidence is a world away from the glitzy, high-class casinos of Las Vegas, and instead features the lowlife backstreets of a slightly sleazy LA that lends the film an atmosphere of sun-scorched neo-noir which at night drips in vibrant neon primary colours.
The plot starts with Jake (Edward Burns) and his crew of grifters (Paul Giamatti and Brian Van Holt) unwittingly conning money from one of the foot soldiers of LA crime lord Winston King (Dustin Hoffman). In order to save their skins, they are obliged to pull off a heist for King in return as recompense. King selects the mark – a rival crime figure who owns his own bank (Robert Forster) – and Jake selects a new member of the crew to pull it off in the form of Rachel Weisz’ femme fatale pickpocket Lily. The trouble is that no one can trust anyone else, and matters are further complicated by two corrupt LAPD officers (Donal Logue and Luis Guzman) teaming up with a Federal agent played by Andy Garcia to put Jake and his gang behind bars.
Unlike Ocean’s 11 there’s no grandiose hi-tech schemes here, just everyday street cons and switches together with some forged documents to rely on, making Confidence a much less ambitious and altogether lower key film, which probably accounts for why it never really caught on at the box office. Despite the five million dollars at stake, things don’t feel all that different from a routine episode of Hustle. But the cast sparks along together nicely with a decent sense of shared history, and the various fake-outs, twists and turns, feints and reveals are all played out adroitly.
The framing sequence (which sees Burns on his knees at gunpoint narrating the sequence of events that led him to this point) is probably a mistake, implicitly revealing too much that should arguably have remained hidden until much later on. And the big climax at the end relies on the same trick that was used at the very start of the film, so if you get caught out by the same con twice in 90 minutes then there really is no hope for you as a mark. It also means that the film ends on something of a damp squib, so to speak.
Still, it’s been a fun ride for the most part, with the highlights being any scene involving Hoffman’s character. King was originally written as a physically threatening 300 pound towering giant, so things clearly had to be reconsidered when Hoffman was cast in the role. The largely improvised ways that he manages to make himself intimidating despite his slight size are fascinating to watch as he flirts with Burns to put the larger, younger man off balance, and then he immediately turns round and starts feeling up Weisz as well for good measure with her discomfort at the groping clearly apparent.
Overall it’s clear to see why Confidence lost out in the shadow of the Oceans franchise, but for anyone interested in films about heists, cons and grifters in general then this is a solid three-star effort well worth trying out if and when it pops up on the late night schedules, or as a low-cost DVD purchase from the bargain bin.
The DVD is surprisingly well-endowed given the film’s low profile, with three different audio commentaries (one each from the director, writer, and a cast track shared by Burns and Weisz with pasted-in contributions from Hoffman) as well as one of those ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ features and some deleted scenes and trailers. The picture is very good quality thanks to the brilliance of the LA sunshine, and the sound is entirely serviceable if not particularly remarkable. Currently there’s no Blu-ray release of the film, and I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting one – rather unfortunately, as I’d say that it would do well in high definition.