review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: R (For Language, Violence and Sexual/Nudity)
Running Time: 97 minutes
Starring: Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia, Paul Giamatti, Donal Logue, Luis Guzman, Brian Van Holt, Franky G, Robert Forster, Leland Orser with Morris Chestnut and Dustin Hoffman
Written by: Doug Jung
Directed by: James Foley
Studio: Lion's Gate
Retail Price: $26.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Director James Foley, Audio Commentary with Writer Doug Jung, Audio Commentary with Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia and Dustin Hoffman, Anatomy Of A Scene, Deleted Scenes, Soundtrack Presentation, Trailers
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scenes (24 Scenes)
Released: September 16th, 2003
Jake Vig (Edward Burns) is a Los Angeles-based con man who has plenty of confidence and knows all the ins and outs to a good con. Jake and his band of con artists put on cons as if it is a stage play, but all of them soon get into more than they bargained for when Jake has motives of avenging a friend's death as a result of him and his gang stealing 150k from someone linked to a local crime boss known as the King (an amazing Dustin Hoffman). Jake assures King he'll get his money back, but he also wants another 200k that feeds into a major con Jake wants to pull off: one involving 5 million dollars. But when Jake enlists the help of Lily (Rachel Weisz) and is being watched over by a close associate to King (Franky G), things get a bit tricky and a bit complex.
"Confidence" is an enjoyable movie and a fine way to spend 90 minutes. Director James Foley, perhaps best known for his directorial work on "Glengarry Glen Ross," does a very admirable job with this movie. He paces the film well, has a dazzling array of editing tricks and camera shots and truly breathes life into the atmosphere the characters live with and deal in. Given the large cast of characters and all the dealings and shifts the story has, Foley keeps straight to the points of the plot and does a good job of keeping track of things in the least confusing manner possible. It's neo-cool territory.
Doug Jung, in his movie screenwriting debut, has a lot of interesting ideas here. And what was originally a spec script still feels a bit like a spec script. Jung has a lot of good ideas going, and he does create quite a cast of characters that are all unique and have their own personalities. Jung is quite good at setting the characters up and this whole Los Angeles underworld, and what the characters go through and what they must accomplish as far as the cons are quite intriguing. Jung also talks about generalities of cons, which to some extent, sound a bit clichéd. What he also does is attempt to intertwine themes associated with cons, such as trust and superstition.
But for all the flashy tricks Foley uses and the whole world Jung tends to create, there's nothing really that stays with you once the movie ends. It sorta feels like the movie is style over substance. While I wouldn't exactly call "Confidence" a fluff piece, a lot of it is too contrived and its "themes" feel tacked on. There's a love subplot that didn't do anything for me, and the whole valuing money/attempt to outcon the bigger villain isn't anything new. The film has plenty of twists, but none of them are that shocking and I felt most of them were pretty predictable. The reason this is because just about all of the characters are one-note to begin with and there are too many characters and most of them are barely developed and not given much to do. I didn't feel really connected to the characters by the end of the movie nor did I feel like I really got to know them. Sure there are some good exchanges and funny dialogue (loved the Jewish/Italian nickname of one guy Giamatti refers to), but it's not enough to bring the movie up. I mentioned most of the characters are likeable, but let's face it - we're rooting for bad guys, aren't we?
But what hurts "Confidence" the most is how Foley sets the movie up. Foley sets it up at the end, and the movie works backward from that point with narratives courtesy of Burns. I didn't care much for the narratives - probably since it was a bit confusing how Burns is supposedly telling the story to how he got as far as he did to Chestnut, but then breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience about his doings and the art of the con. It's a technique that has been done before in other movies and has been successful, but it fails here. It takes out a lot of what's going on, can be distracting, interupts the flow and doesn't let the viewer guess or think as much as they should.
What helps elevate the script and make the movie much more enjoyable than it should be is the acting. James Foley rounded up a stellar cast for this one, and the actors do a great job - even if most of the roles only go so far. Love him or hate him, Edward Burns does a good job in this movie. He's believable, he's enthusiastic but at times (mainly during his narratives), he comes across a bit forced. Rachel Weisz is excellent as always (and puts on a good American accent), but sad to say, there isn't too much to the role - it could have been something more juicier.
The supporting players are very good here. The always-reliable Paul Giamatti (one of my favorite actors) brings in some of the film's more humorous moments and brings a strong hyperactivity to the role. Brian Van Holt is pretty likeable while Morris Chestnut, Andy Garcia and Robert Forster are also in the movie, and while good in their short screen time, their characters don't add up to much by the end of the movie. I thought the pairing of Luis Guzman and Donal Logue was wonderful, and both were very enjoyable in their roles. Up-and-comer Franky G and Leland Orser also churn out some strong performances.
You've probably heard it by now, but one actor steals the show in this movie and that's the wonderful Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman is superb in the role and he's never done anything like this before. Arguably, his peformance as King is the sleaziest, most devious, entertaining and energetic role he's ever taken on. And while Hoffman only appears in a few scenes during the movie (hence the "and" on the credits listing), Hoffman's crime boss portrayl goes a long way and is the only element of the film that really sticks with once the film ends.
There have been much better con and grifter movies - films like "The Grifters" and "House Of Games" come to mind. And while it seems con movies are emerging as a new genre in modern cinema ("Matchstick Men," the "Ocean's Eleven" remake), it's hard to resist a movie like "Confidence." It's a decent movie that gets the job done, and with its sassy visuals, straight focus and good acting it does make it a lot more fun than you'd expect it to be. But with a little more development and streamlining, this movie could have been so much more than what it turned out to be. With that said, I wouldn't be against a sequel to this movie...
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good, but it's not without its faults. I suppose I'll get the bad out of the way first. The print used for this transfer isn't quite clean, as blemishes, nicks and dirt marks come up here and there (I always find those distracting). Some edge halos are noticeable too and there's slight edge enhancment to be had. I also noticed artifacting here and there, and the transfer can be a bit soft at times. Other than those instances, there's a lot to like here. Fleshtones look pretty good, the darkly lit scenes hold up pretty well (such as the ones in King's club), detail is pretty strong and color saturation is pretty good too - the movie has a lot of color schemes, and holds up pretty well with them. Not perfect, but a pretty exceptional transfer.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty good, but not as aggressive as I anticipated. There is a lot of talking going on in this movie, but there is some action here and there to spice things up. Surrounds kick in when characters are by busy streets or when there is some fighting going on (usually involving guns) - the surrounds pack some nice punches. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear while the songs played in the movie (like "Clocks" by Coldplay at the end!) and the cool score from Christophe Beck. The 5.1 track has a strong dynamic range with good fidelity, while the .1 LFE can be pretty impressive. In all, a nice track. Also included are English closed captions, English subtiles, Spanish subtitles and an English Dolby Surround track.
The movie has not one, but three Audio Commentaries. The first commentary with director James Foley - and he just gets right into it. Foley talks about him taking the projecting on, touches on casting and offers some pretty interesting production stories as far as his approach to directing the movie, some technical details, establishing the tone of the flick (he thinks some of the characters are even loveable - Jung looks for a "huggibility factor") and yes, even product placement. I'm not sure if everyone will appreciate this commentary, but I really enjoyed it - so much so, I have a bit more appreciation for the movie.
The second commentary is with writer Doug Jung, and for his first commentary, it's pretty good. Jung has a lot to say about his screenplay, and how he had to change a few things around such as story structure, relationships and location (the script was originally set in New York). He gives plenty of insights on his story and his characters, offering a heap of praise along the way. What I really enjoyed about the track is how Jung touches a lot on working with James Foley, and how Foley helped him hone the screenplay and how he accomdated Foley's vision for the film. Jung is quite enthusiastic and offers a lot to say - this is well worth your time.
Finally, the third audio commentary is with some of the main actors - Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia and the King himself, Dustin Hoffman. Weisz and Burns have been recorded together, and seem to have a good chemistry in talking back and forth. Some of the comments are pretty much useless (Burns points out all the actors who have New York roots), but there's some fun stories (hear Weisz screw up the story on how she met Dustin Hoffman). Burns pretty much dominates the track, and a filmmaker himself, comments on the filmmaking process. Garcia isn't in the track that much but offers some things worth listening to, and then there's Dustin Hoffman - I enjoyed his comments the most since has so much to say and all of it's entertaining and insightful at the same time. Obviously the man's an experienced actor, but he talks a lot about his approach, improvisation and the importance of having rehearsal and his basis for bringing the King to life (he based some of it off James Foley). It's not always screen specific, but there are enough good comments here making it worth it - a lot of production info not touched on the other two tracks is included here. In all though, all three commentaries are excellent.
Next up is the Sundance Channel's Anatomy Of A Scene. Lasting about a half-hour and using clips from the movie and interviews with Foley, Doug Jung, cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia, editor Stuart Levy, production designer William Arnold and much of the cast. The opening of the featurette sets up what the movie is about, and then divulges to talk about the scene where Jake introduces his friends/fellow co-horts to Lily and Lupus. It's a crucial scene since it introduces the audience to the film's big heist. I love these Sundance Channel featurettes, and like all the others out there, it's well-produced, interesting, entertaining and well worth a watch. Quite a lot of ground is covered in such a limited amount of time - it really gives you a strong sense of the movie.
There are some Deleted Scenes in anamorphic widescreen, but some of them are outtakes (see Dustin Hoffman playing around with the models in his club). The scenes really don't add up to much, but Hoffman's performance is so great that it's a shame not more of him was in the final film (at least the DVD shows it off). There's also a nice scene with Jake and Lily which isn't crucial to the film's main plot, but given the relationship of the characters it's nice to watch but perhaps foreshadows something that we learn at the end of the movie. The scenes are in great quality too.
Rounding things up there's a Soundtrack Promo, followed by two Music Videos - one from from Zero 7 and the other FC Kahuna (one of the videos remind me of the movie "Waking Life"). Finally, there's Trailers for other Lion's Gates movies - just like any other DVD of theirs, click on the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu. The trailers are for "Confidence," "Godsend," "The Hard Word" and Jeff Probt's directorial debut, "Finder's Fee."
"Confidence" is an entertaining diversion that's stylized and fun to watch, but there's nothing in the story that truly sticks with you. The DVD is pretty nice, with a fine 5.1 mix, good widescreen transfer and a strong boat of extras that give you many perspectives on the making of the movie. It's worth a Saturday night rental, but if you're a fan of the movie, you'll probably want to pick this up.