Con men are more appealing than run-of-the-mill villains, who want to take your money because they are stronger or more dangerous than you are. Con men want to take it because they're smarter than you are. And there is hardly ever a con man who isn't likable, because, after all, if he can't win your confidence, how can he take your money? Movies about con men are seductive because the audience is on both sides of the moral issues: We want to see justice done, of course, but at the same time we're intrigued by the audacity of this character who is trying to out-think his opposition.
"The Grifters" is the first American production by Stephen Frears, one of the best new British directors. His credit list is short but distinguished: "My Beautiful Launderette," "Prick Up Your Ears," "Sammy and Rosie Get Laid" and "Dangerous Liaisons." All four films deal with labyrinths of passion, with characters deceiving others about the true nature of their loves.
the underlying story is universal. It involves the archetypal triangle of the lover, the loved one, and the authority figure who would separate them. The lover is Roy Dillon (John Cusack), a con man in his 20s, who isn't very good and pulls mostly small-time cons. The loved one is Myra Langtry (Annette Bening), who looks young and sexy but is probably older than she looks and certainly more dangerous than Roy realizes.And the authority figure is Roy's mother, Lily (Anjelica Huston), who has been pulling cons since a very early age and considers everyone a potential victim. That list would certainly include her son.
Why do confidence operators do what they do? Why do they need to win our love and trust, and then betray us? In "The Grifters," it's pretty clear that they're locked into an old pattern of trust and betrayal that goes back to childhood, and that they're trying to get even. Poor Roy. He thinks he wants to be a great con man, and all he really wants is to find just one person he can safely love, one person who isn't trying to con him.