[box cover]

Confidence

You've seen it all before, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth watching again. Freshman screenwriter Doug Jung's Confidence (2003) explores the art of the scam among the con-men and hustlers of L.A.'s alleys and backstreets, and while it's fairly obvious that the movie will have a sucker-punch or two in the last few minutes, it's still an enjoyable swindle. Edward Burns stars as Jake Vig, the boss of an L.A. crew that shakes down mid-level crooks, usually for a briefcase full of cash. Vig is smart — he understands that a really good con requires not just an elaborate setup with a skilled group of actors, but also a payoff so horrific the victim will never, ever want to return to the scene of the "crime." However, after Jake's boys liberate some drug-money from a greedy courier, they discover their mook was working for "King" (Dustin Hoffman), one of the most eccentric, brutal gangsters on the West Coast. King retaliates by having Jake's buddy Big Al (Louis Lombardi) wake up with a bullet in his head, and then lets it be known that he expects to get his money back. But Jake doesn't like to be pushed around — getting an escort from two crooked LAPD cops (Luis Guzman, Donal Logue), he visits King's strip club and sets out his terms: He won't pay back the money, but he will run a con and cut King in on the take. King agrees, but insists his flunkie Lupus (Franky G) join the crew, after which a prominent bank is targeted for a $5 million shakedown. Along the way, Jake recruits Lily (Rachel Weisz), a street-level con who will use her feminine wiles to enfeeble a finance executive (John Carroll Lynch). Meanwhile, federal agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) rolls into town hoping to settle an old score with his nemesis — Jake Vig. Confidence comes across as a David Mamet film that the director never got around to making. It doesn't quite rank up with the Chicago writer's House of Games (1987) or Heist (2001), but it's a passable cousin, and scenarist Jung gives his characters plenty of clipped phrases and repetitions, all of which sound a little bit too much like Mametspeak. And just to be sure the film has some sort of Mametian pedigree, it's sharply directed by James Foley, who also helmed the brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). The cast is likable enough — Edward Burns is not everyone's cup of tea, and his notable blandness is on full display here; thankfully, he manages to use that quality to his advantage as a young, gifted con-artist who's impossible to read. Crew members Paul Giamatti and Brian Van Holt play off each other nicely, while Rachel Weisz appropriately drips with sex appeal. And dirty cops Luis Guzman and Donal Logue come up with some comic relief in a film that tends to keep its tone hard-boiled in all other circumstances. You'll spot the twist from a mile away, but it's not a bad gag. However, the real treat in Confidence comes from two veterans playing against type — suave Andy Garcia practically loses himself in the role of rumpled, grumpy agent Gunther Butan, while Dustin Hoffman is effectively, surprisingly menacing as the L.A. boss nobody wants to cross (not to mention the fact that he's hysterically crass when lecturing his strippers on the finer points of a proper live sex show). Lions Gate's DVD release of Confidence features a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include three audio commentaries — director Foley and writer Jung each get a track, while stars Burns, Weisz, and Hoffman contribute scene-specific anecdotes. Also on board is a Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene" episode (28 min.), a deleted scenes reel (10 min.), and a soundtrack presentation with two music videos. Keep-case.
—JJB



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