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The Grifters
Miramax Collector's Series

review by Zach B.



Rating: R

Running Time: 110 minutes

Starring: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening

Screenplay by: Donald E. Westlake
Based on the novel by: Jim Thompson

Directed by: Stephen Frears


Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $19.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears, Writer Donald Westlake, John Cusack and Anjelica Huston, The Making Of "The Grifters," The Jim Thompson Story, "The Grifters" Scrapbook, Sneak Peeks

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (22 Scenes)

Released: September 24th, 2002



Roy Dillon (John Cusack) is a small time con artist who suffers an injury after a job gone wrong in a bar. His estranged mother Lily (Anjelica Huston), also a con artist who works for a bookie, comes back into his life after a visit. As a result of Roy's injury, he soon goes to the hospital where his girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) comes to see him. Myra is also a con artist, and as it turns out, Lily and Myra don't exactly hit it off well together. As Lily comes to realize she still cares for her son, Roy and Myra head off for what can be a major con job. Of course, for all three of these grifters, tragic consequences are in the cards as they're all put through one confusing maze of trust...

I've never read the original source material the film is based on, so I can't compare the novel and the film. But I personally think that "The Grifters" is one of the more forgotten movies of the 1990s. While the film has had its spot with the critics over the years, the film has seemed to retain a cult audience. I'm not even sure if people realize that this film received four Oscar® nominations (two for acting, one for directing and one for screenplay adaption). I think "The Grifters" ranks as a modern classic, truly one of the more stand out movies of the decade and serves to be an excellent piece of work from all sides.

When it comes down to it, it's really an intriguing story and a finely served character study of three different people. I would say it's a relationship movie to an extent, but not in your romantic comedy kind of way. It's interesting to see how the characters feel about themselves, and how they get along with other people. The counteraction between Lily and Myra is key, but it seems Roy is stuck in the middle as his relationship shifts with Myra and how things go down after his own mother comes back into his life.

Though perhaps it's more to it than that. Despite Roy's attempts to stay in touch with his mother, she blew him off a few times. Yet what's interesting is that despite what has happened in the past, she acts like she's never left his side and is still a supportive parent to an extent. She is compelled to her own son despite their estrangement. But what I think is most important to the story's context is that each of the main characters sets up his or her own downfall to a certain degree. Their lives and actions tend to intertwine, but it soon becomes more about a singular person than a particular group or relationship. I find arcs like that particularly fascinating. Donald E. Westlake captures all of this in his script in a fine manner, and tops it off with good dialogue too.

To make the movie more believable to an extent, the film certainly has a fine cast which do a lot more than justice to the characters. Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening each received Oscar® nominations for their outstanding performances. Each of these women play a vital role in Roy's own life, and how they are linked to Roy but share similarities, they do a fine job showcasing the differences as well. Huston's manipulating and power in this role, and those characteristics are well suited here, not to mention some sense of resentment and anger. Bening as Myra is seductive and also manipulating, but she's more subtle and cunning. The two female leads each do a fine job, and I think are highlights in their respective, comprehensive and very worthy careers.

Of course, there's also John Cusack. Cusack also shines in this movie, as his performance is also one to treasure. I found Cusack to be a lot more low key in the film than he usually is, and I think that makes all the difference in how the character of Roy is perceived. There's something amiss from the character which Cusack taps into perfectly, yet at the same time, there's also a fine sense of priority and charm.

Stephen Frears, truly one of this generation's more notable directors (and who would also re-team with John Cusack for 2000's "High Fidelity"), paces this movie in a strong fashion. There's never a dull moment in "The Grifters," and every scene has its own advantage. I particularly liked his shooting style, paying strong attention to the details of the sets and locations. I know there's probably something new to notice everytime you happen to watch the film. I also liked how he sets the stage for everything in a high fashioned, yet somewhat subtle manner. There are some flashy cuts and camera movements, but one cannot deny how well honed the film's directing is. As I mentioned, Frears received an Oscar® nod for his work here. When it comes down to it, everyone may not be familiar with "The Grifters." But it's certainly a movie that everyone should be familiar with. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out, especially in this fantastic new DVD release.


Sporting a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, "The Grifters" looks terrific. This transfer is very well done, capturing the sharp, near elegant look of the film quite well. The transfer is pretty much spotless except for a mark or scratch here and there that I doubt people will even notice. The film has some noise here and there, but probably most distracting is that it's quite grainy. Besides that, everything here is good. Fleshtones hit their mark nicely, black levels are strong, detail is focused nicely in the transfer and color saturation is slightly subdued, but works well. Overall, fans of the movie won't be disappointed with this offering.


Even if it's only an English Dolby Surround track, I found the limitations of the track to still be quite effective. While I think a few extra channels could have helped majorly, everything here sounds quite good. Elmer Bernstein's half-seedy, half-striking score sounds particularly good here. Dialogue is clear and crisp, though at times perhaps a bit low. Sound effects also sound quite good too. All the elements seem to be thrown together without much major separation, but when everything comes together, it sounds good in a very simple, yet effective and straightforward kind of manner. It does not seem one sound element holds more power than the other, which is perfectly fine. Packed with good fidelity too, this is a mix that certainly holds its own. Also included is a French track, as well as English closed captions and English subtitles.


It's not jammed pack, but there are quite a few goodies to please fans of the movie in this Miramax Collector's Series release, especially considering the last release was bare bones. First up is an Audio Commentary with Director Stephen Frears, Writer Donald Westlake, John Cusack and Anjelica Huston. This is a good commentary, and while it's edited, it features fun and interesting production stories. Frears seems to had a good time making the film, Westlake offers insight into what the story means and is very knowledgeable, while Anjelica Huston comes across quite well in how she articulates her role, the film and what certain things called for. She's pretty insightful, but I found John Cusack to be the most insightful on the track. I ate up his comments, as he says a lot about his experiences with the film and offers a wide variety of thoughts on the craft of being an actor. This is certainly a worthy track for the movie, so even if you're a casual fan of the flick, it's worth listening too.

The Making Of "The Grifters" lasts a solid sixteen and a half minutes, featuring your usual clips from the film and production stills, there's also a host of interviews that focuses on how the production started and how all if it came to be. Stephen Frears, Donald E. Westlake, John Cusack, and Anjelica Huston do a lot of the talking, and quite a good deal of ground is covered here. The interviews are great, but the quality of the video isn't quite flattering. Still, besides that, the content really matters here and a lot is discussed: the actors sharping their characters, the themes of the movie and much more. Believe it or not, a lot of ground is covered in such a small amount of time. I found it particularly interesting how Westlake passed on the project originally, and when he got on board finally, how much he finely tuned the script to Frears' liking. Overall, this is definently a must watch if you liked the movie. It's not promotional in the least bit, and ranks as one of the best making of pieces I've seen on DVD lately.

The Jim Thompson Story is presented in anamorphic widescreen (score!) and focuses on the author of the original "Grifters" book, Jim Thompson. Biographer Robert Pollio and Donald E. Westlake discuss the man's work. Featuring clips from "The Grifters" itself and stills of Thompson's work, this is a fine look at what a respected author did and how groundbreaking he was, not to mention what makes "The Grifters" one of Thompson's most highly regarded works and what it means. A nice way to spend eight minutes.

Rounding it out is a pretty extensive photo gallery, entitled The Grifters Scrapbook. There are two sections for this feature: "Production Stills" and "Publicity Stills." Don't forget your Sneak Peeks too, as they're trailers for other John Cusack movies ("Serendipity," "High Fidelity" and "Grosse Point Blank") and the recent sex comedy "40 Days and 40 Nights."


"The Grifters" is a very strong movie in its storytelling, its acting and directing style. This release certainly does not disappoint either, with a very fine transfer, decent sound track and a good amount of supplements. Best of all perhaps is the price, as you can score this 1990s classic for around 15 dollars at some retail and online stores. This is an obvious must purchase if you're a fan of the movie, but if you've never seen it, it's truly worth checking out.